Celebrity hairstylist Larry Sims has been Gabrielle Union’s mane man for nearly 15 years. Now, the best friends become business partners with the thoughtful relaunch of hair-care line Flawless. Here, the duo shares the inside scoop on rebuilding the brand.
NewBeauty: How did the two of you team up?
Larry Sims: Gab and I met back when I was a dancer—I danced for many, many years before becoming a professional hairstylist. She was in the classic Bring It On and I was working with her costars, the girl group Blaque. We were doing a radio show to promote the movie, and Gabrielle and I locked eyes and connected, and then stayed in touch. And during my transition into hairstyling, she was one of the first people to say yes to me. We’ve been working together ever since, and now it’s been about 15 years.
NB: Have you always been into beauty products and trends?
Gabrielle Union: As a young girl, you’re usually steered to changing your hair or makeup to build your self-esteem. I always wanted to present myself as pretty, so I’d buy Wet n Wild lipstick and lip gloss— things I could afford because they were super cheap. When I was 13, I heard that you could dye your hair using hydrogen peroxide, so I dunked my bangs into a bowl of hydrogen peroxide and sat outside in the sun. I was really obsessed with Duran Duran and John Taylor’s blond streaks, but all I ended up with were blond bangs that were super fried and took forever to grow out.
Larry: We were all doing that peroxide color back then. I had one in my S Curl when I thought I wanted to be a part of New Edition (laughs).
NB: Why did you decide to relaunch the brand now, and what have you learned in the three years since the original debut?
Gabrielle: When I first launched Flawless in 2017, it was hard to authentically be a part of the brand because due to my multiple rounds of IVF, I had a headband of baldness and I couldn’t wear my natural hair. My partners and investors at the time refused to delay the launch to give me time to grow my hair back, so when you’re trying to sell hair-care products but you’re only wearing wigs and hairpieces as if they are your own, you’re starting off in a very disingenuous place. And while the company did fine, I quickly realized I wanted to restructure the business. I wanted to wrestle back control of the company, and I wanted it to be black-owned because it wasn’t before, and it showed. I wanted to create a real FUBU experience that is for us, by us. I also wanted to lean more into new innovation and new ingredient stories. And in order for me to feel complete as a woman who fully relies on the expertise and care of my hairstylist—he’s also one of my best friends—it would have been disingenuous to do a hair line without the man who’s responsible for me getting my hair back. The guy who was in the trenches with me, wiping my tears.
NB: What was the creative process like?
Larry: We were in the trenches, mixing things in the kitchen and coming up with our own concoctions, and we were getting results. I’ve been in partnerships before, but never have I been able to sink my teeth into creating formulas and testing them on people. The thing that makes Flawless so authentic is that Gabrielle was actually the person who saw the results from the ingredients firsthand. So it was important to us that the formulas would repair the hair, and also invigorate a healthy scalp and hair growth. The hero of our 12-piece line is a three-minute, protein-infused conditioning mask that helps repair hair from inside of the shaft out. We have great moisturizing components, too, such as Brazilian bacuri butter and our rice oil complex, which is a new innovation that provides shine and amazing amounts of moisture. We’re really proud of what we were able to come up with.
Gabrielle: To me, one of the biggest things was actually having a stylist with decades of experience in with the chemists. It’s one thing for chemists to create in a vacuum, assuming they know what the consumer wants and needs, but it’s another to have an actual hairstylist working with them to create products that actually work on real people. And the awesome thing about Larry is that his clients span an amazing range of hair textures and types, and they were willing to test formulas and give us copious notes throughout the whole process. Another big thing was having the chemists actually listen. Many times, they just deliver what people are used to, but often what people are used to are in fact harmful chemicals. We’ve eliminated the silicones, sulfates, parabens and more. Some of the ingredients that traditionally cause the slippage we’re used to—that silky feeling— are actually not great for our hair, and there are other healthier ingredients that can give that same softness. But unless chemists are challenged, they often just keep reinventing the wheel. We wouldn’t have gotten here without Larry. There’s no way I was doing this relaunch without him.
NB: Did the stay-at-home orders change the way you think about your hair?
Gabrielle: Yes! Even though Larry lives about five minutes from me, we were doing FaceTimes and Zooms, and I was looking at videos on YouTube because I couldn’t see him. It was a lot of at-home styling, and let me just say, I recognized that my shoulders are very tight (laughs). A lot of those tutorials are for people who have far more flexible shoulders than I do! But in all seriousness, trying to do all that stuff myself gave me a whole new respect for stylists and the salon experience. And many people lost their jobs and can’t afford to go to the salon now. We’ve been forced to look at everything differently—you have to, things have changed.
NB: Why were affordability and accessibility so important to you?
Gabrielle: When people find out our products are salon-quality and less than $10, they’re stunned [the line is available on Amazon.com and SallyBeauty.com]. We want Flawless to be accessible to every community. We’re trying to address all the things I screwed up on the first time. And we’re listening—you have to humble yourself and actually listen to your gut and soul, and when something doesn’t feel right, you speak up. And when something is only working on certain hair textures or there’s a push to only sell in certain communities, there’s a point where you’re just kind of an a-hole if you don’t stand up for what’s right for the majority and not the few. I hate that. That’s part of the reason why I got involved with New York & Company creating affordable work clothes, and Bitsy’s to create healthier snacks for kids at affordable prices—it’s all part of the direction I’m going in. I’ve discovered there’s a different way of doing business, and you don’t have to sacrifice your soul and your values.