Gabrielle Union and Her Haircare Brand Announce $75,000 Mentorship Grant for Black Women-Owned Businesses 

The actress and co-creator of Flawless by Gabrielle Union tells PEOPLE about her brand's first-ever grant initiative launching on International Women's Day

Gabrielle Union arrives at the premiere of the AppleTV+ show"Truth Be Told" Season 3
Photo: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Gabrielle Union wants to see small businesses thrive. And on her search for "more purposeful and impactful" ways to spotlight emerging brands founded by Black women, she discovered what would be her new beauty endeavor.

On Wednesday, Flawless by Gabrielle Union, the haircare brand co-founded by the star and her longtime stylist Larry Sims, launched its first-ever grant initiative, Lift as We Climb, for Black women-owned brands in the fashion and beauty space.

Speaking to PEOPLE, the actress, author, mom and entrepreneur opens up about the road to her "exciting" new project.

"When people have great ideas, you want that to be rewarded and so often it's just not," Union, 50, tells PEOPLE. "We want to learn exactly how best to be as impactful not only to the business but the community," she adds on the initiative, which will kick off on International Women's Day, March 8, and run until April 19.

Gabrielle Union - Founders
John Jay

To apply, owners of skincare, hair accessories and fashion brands can submit a video and presentation that will be evaluated by a carefully curated panel of judges, which so far includes B. Pagels-Minor (the creator of DVRGNT Ventures and the first Black transventure capital founder) and Antoine Gregory (founder of Black Fashion Fairand brand director of Theophilio).

Out of the six finalists chosen to participate in an online pitch event on May 10, three will be rewarded with $25,000 each as well as mentorship sessions hosted by LinkedIn.

Union, who understands what it takes to launch (and relaunch) a brand, wants to connect with the recipients on a deeper level. "I think people respond to truthful narratives," she says.

And, as a Black woman, she's not willing to watch those in her community "struggle."

"That goal post that we're aiming for is going to forever move, so we try to encourage folks and show people by example that you don't have to be the most successful brand or have 'made it' to help," Union says.

Gabrielle Union - Founders
John Jay

Union has been in the beauty business since 2017, but tapping into her boss modedoesn't involve much glam. "I'm less worried about how I'm presenting to the world and more [on] trying to make sure my brain is focused," she shares. Pilates, working out and adjusting her diet to what works for her body help her get there.

"But if I've got to get ready to be on camera, I'm going to make sure that my hair is healthy and I'm doing my deep conditioning using my Flawless 5 Butter Masque," she says.

Facials are also a must and Union raves about esthetician Candice Miele, who also happens to be a go-to for Union's husband and former NBA player Dwyane Wade. "He's got more products than I do," she teases of her beau's newfound love for skincare. "His whole career he had troubled skin, but in retirement, baby, he has been in there."

In a way, the actress' latest business venture is a reflection of the guidance she's received over the years from a group of women she calls "powerhouses." She recalls Tisha Campbell paying for her therapy sessions and looks back on the time Regina King literally saved her life from a riptide during a trip to Bermuda.

"I call them OGs who were not interested in [seeing] me failing in any part of my life," Union remembers. "I'm very, very lucky, so now I'm trying to do that in front of and behind the camera and the business."

Union has long been an advocate for underrepresented groups and at this year's NAACP Awards, she and Wade presented a moving speech on transgender rights, a matter that hits close to home.

"If you are really in this and are fighting for equity and inclusion, you cannot afford to leave anyone out," she says on the now-viral speech, which in part was dedicated to Wade's 15-year-old daughter Zaya, who came out as transgender in 2020.

As for championing hair representation in Hollywood, Union says she wants to "beat the drum as loud as I can" in the fight for fair treatment. "There should be no excuse why there aren't people of color and people who specialize in all different kinds of hair textures."

"The fight continues, but there have been a lot of strides made and there's a lot more strides that can be made," she adds.

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 25: (L-R) Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade accept the President's Award onstage during the 54th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 25, 2023 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
Amy Sussman/Getty

While she's one of the many faces behind the initiative, Union is still discovering what being a mentor means to her. Though, there is one quality she finds most admirable: Honesty.

"If you don't talk about the very real challenges that it is to be a Black woman entrepreneur in a very competitive space, you're doing your mentees a disservice," she says. "You have to tell the whole truth — where you struggled, where you fell, where you completely just didn't get it right, and how you course corrected it."

There's no stopping for Union and Sims, who have already made Flawless by Gabrielle Union worldwide. Now, they're already mapping out the year ahead — including the newness that's to come.

"We lean into innovation heavily so we have new products dropping throughout 2023, but majorly in 2024. We're really, really excited about that," Union reveals.

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