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‘Oh My God, We Need This!’: Avid Traveler Turned Entrepreneur Launches Beauty Vending Machine Business for Black Women on the Go

When avid traveler Maxine Pittman realized she could never find the beauty items she used regularly while on the move, she knew she had to do something. “Black women have usually been in the shadows. We’ve usually been invisible,” Pittman said. “We’re now occupying corporate America, we’re jet-setting and we’re globe-trotting, and we’re in spaces we’ve never been in before and I want to make sure we have our beauty products with us every step of the way,” she said. 

Pittman created Tress Obsessed, a line of vending machines specializing in travel-sized beauty items for Black women. “We basically are giving women of color that have active, on-the-go lifestyles the luxury of having all of their beloved hair care items on the go so they can throw them in their purse, in their gym bag, in their luggage, in their suitcase, or in their briefcase for a business trip or a girls’ trip,” Pittman said. 

While working a corporate job, and running an online beauty supply, Pittman started dreaming. “I’ve always been fascinated with the vending machine culture in Asia,” she said. “I wanted to bring two of my hobbies together — travel and beauty — and I noticed that there was a need in my community: that women of color needed their beauty products on the go.” After deciding to start Tress Obsessed, Pittman first legitimized the company by filing all the paperwork and then started researching the emerging beauty vending industry. Then, she had to fund it.  

Maxine Pittman founded a line of vending machines with products catered to Women of Color. Photo credit: Rae Williams

“I would say probably within the last year, I’ve probably spent between $40,000 to $50,000 on my business. Just getting everything up and running: the rebranding, the marketing, vendors, inventory, the machines themselves, securing all the contracts — all of that,” she said.  The costly venture came to life when Tress Obsessed launched its first machine on April 1.  But the journey didn’t stop there. Pittman faced a few more obstacles. “First of all getting funding – I’m still trying to get funding, I’ve been applying for that since I started the business,” she said. “As well as just small things logistically: Getting your employees to understand different things about the process, as well as logistically in terms of getting the machines installed. Install day is huge, so that’s another obstacle we’ve had to this day.”

Pittman employs an all-woman-of-color team consisting of paid interns, full-time employees, brand ambassadors and more. Tress Obsessed currently has machines at the Del Amo Mall in Torrance, California, Tanger outlets in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. Pittman has plans to launch machines in Las Vegas and Atlanta later this year.  Her vision also includes machines in airports, HBCUs, hotels and more.

Stocked with staples, recognizable Black-centric brands, and handy often-overlooked items like weaving needles and thread, the machines have gotten attention. “Getting featured by different magazines and in different publications was always good because you’re finally getting the recognition that you want for all of your hard work,” Pittman said.  Tress Obsessed went viral twice on social media, and though Pittman says she doesn’t chase attention, she was extremely pleased. “Just seeing the hundreds of thousands of black women saying ‘Oh my God we need this! This is what we need’ And realizing that what was in my mind the crazy idea that was in my mind in my Orange County apartment is finally becoming what I wanted for black women this whole time,” Pittman said. 

She also has some solid advice for other women going into business. “Do your research and make sure you have funding, because everything that you think is going to cost a certain amount is going to cost more than that, and you have to be prepared for that,” she warned. “And then also, be prepared and be okay to fail because you’re always failing forward. You’re learning things even when you’re making mistakes, so make sure that you’re okay with being uncomfortable,” Pittman said. 

Pittman points out that even if there isn’t a machine near you, you can still order travel-sized versions of your favorite products and even put together your own kits through Tress Obsessed’s website and Instagram. You can find the brand at @Tressobsessedla on Instagram or at www.mytressobsessed.com.

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