I leap at the chance to travel, whether it's a cross-country flight or a quick road trip. But any woman of color knows taking our beauty products with us can be a challenge. Many of the beloved natural hair and skincare essentials are often tossed out during TSA pre-checks. And when we arrive at our hotels, we're met with an assortment of complementary products that don't work for our hair texture or skin tone.
It's this dilemma that inspired Maxine Pittman to do something. Initially, the L.A.-native envisioned her business as a 24-hour beauty supply store. But, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she recognized that the changing retail landscape demanded something different—vending machines. Earlier this year, Pittman launched Tress Obsessed Beauty Vending, a chain of vending machines that carry travel-sized beauty products for women of color.
"I realized there was a problem in the travel world with Black women," Pittman says. "I've traveled all over the world. And everyone knows when you check in a hotel room, they give you free body wash and lotions. And I realized I couldn't use any of those products. Black women spend the most on their hair and nails, but we get the least amount of shelf space. So, I decided I wanted to create vending machines with travel-sized beauty products."
The Business Idea
Equipped with the desire to solve a longstanding pain point for Black women, Pittman poured her heart and soul into getting her company off the ground. "I've used my own personal savings," Pittman shares. "I also pulled money out of my own 401K to do this because I said if I do this, I'm doing this full throttle and I'm not looking back. I'm not going back to corporate America. I want to do this, and I want to do this full-time. I want to put 120% into this."
Though Pittman says it's been the hardest thing she's ever done, her steadfast efforts have allowed her to launch four vending machines across Arizona, California, Nevada, and Canada to date. Each machine is stocked with staple haircare, skincare, and beauty products from brands ranging from SheaMoisture to Black Girl Sunscreen.
The Business Success
Currently, each machine is situated in a mall or shopping center. But, Pittman has her sights set on expanding into other locations. "I want to put [Tress Obsessed vending machines] in airports," Pittman says. "I want to put them in stadiums. I want to put them in shopping malls. I want to put them in hotels and resorts. I want to put them in places where Black women and women of color frequent."
Getting into the airports is a high priority for Pittman, noting Los Angeles International Airport and Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport are at the top of her list. She also wants to place her beauty vending machines on HBCU campuses to ensure Black college students always have access to their favorite personal care products.
A significant part of Pittman's three-year plan also involves fundraising so she can properly grow Tress Obsessed. "If you've been in business for less than three years, it's very hard to get a business loan even if you have good business credit," she explains. "So, my goal is to get funding so we can expand. I have a few investors that have reached out to me. I'm waiting to see what unfolds with that."
The Bottom Line
When asked what has been the most rewarding part of launching her business, Pittman replied: "Hearing from women that look like me." Pittman has received thousands of comments from Black and Brown women on social media (she's gone viral on Twitter and Instagram), affirming the need for her beauty vending machines. "It's definitely rewarding to see women's eyes light up and see them as excited about my business as I am," she says.