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Listen: How Gabrielle Union Bet on Herself and Changed Her Brand

Actress Gabrielle Union said she was nearly 17 years past the expiration date of her mass appeal when she got the brand partnership of her dreams.

“They tell you that after 26, ‘Honey, hang it up,'” Union said on the latest episode of the Variety podcast “Strictly Business.” The episode was recorded during a keynote conversation at Variety’s recent Entertainment Marketing Summit in Los Angeles.

“Get prepared to play long suffering mothers who set up jokes and you don’t get to be a star. You’re past the ingenue stage. Your best days are behind you as a brand ambassador unless you can sell bleach. They don’t ever position it as being in a position of power,” she said.

The star of teen cult classics like cheerleading comedy “Bring It On” and critically praised adult dramas like BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” Union was used to the roller coaster of show business. She never expected, at 43, to be the face of a major consumer fashion brand and be invited to design clothing for women who look like her.

“The CEO of New York & Company came to me and was like, ‘We are looking for a new brand ambassador. We would love to create a Gabrielle Union line and would love for you to be the face of the 7th Avenue [collection]. I was sort of in disbelief … we’re not supposed to be getting these offers. I’m not supposed to be having this career resurgence, my value isn’t supposed to be this high.”

Through a shared set of values and deep appreciation of her identity, Union said she and the corporate partner have reached heights in both opportunity and representation. She takes deep pride in that female family members from Omaha, Neb., can partake in the price point and sizes of her collections.

The brand deal also coincided with an on-screen renaissance for Union. Her Will Packer-produced 2018 indie thriller “Breaking In” grossed nearly $50 million on a $6 million budget. Through her I’ll Have Another Productions, she set up a female reboot of the “Bad Boys” film franchise she starred with Will Smith. She brings that to syndicated TV with Spectrum, top-lining the series with Jessica Alba. Union, married to NBA superstar Dwyane Wade, is also a judge on the popular reality competition series “America’s Got Talent.”

Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

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