Maxine Pittman is the Founder and CEO of Tress Obsessed Beauty Vending, a new way to shop your favorite natural haircare products in just a few seconds. As a Los Angeles native, Maxine has amassed a range of skills in customer services, marketing, public relations, sales experience, and more across various industries. Tress Obsessed originally began as an online beauty supply store before pivoting to an innovative beauty vending machine company during the pandemic. She used her experience traveling overseas to determine what gap she could fill for women of color and identified that beauty items are often overlooked and underrepresented. Her products provide travel-sized hair products for women whether they are at hotels, resorts, at the gym, college dorms, and so much more. We chatted with her during this holiday season to learn more about how Tress Obsessed was created, how she sources her products, and more.
What was your experience traveling as a woman of color?
I have had various experiences traveling. There are places that I go to where I always feel at peace and welcome, like Mexico. There are places where people look at me and are stuck up and I can tell there is a bit of racism or sexism in the mix, like in France. But, no matter how the people treat me I always have a good time because I paid to be there and it’s a vacation! I do my due diligence to follow dozens of travel blogs and travel groups on Instagram and I always try to keep myself in the diverse circles of other people of color who are traveling as well. And I feel that if you travel with a group of people that look like you, you’ll always feel community no matter where you go.
How did the challenge of not having accessible beauty products as a POC impact your experience?
This has always been a hassle for women of color, especially Black women. I feel like over the last 10, maybe 15 years, Black women are really starting to cultivate different spaces in terms of travel and experiences that a lot of us have never had before. In my experience, it was always a hassle trying to take the little clear bottles and putting lotions and shampoos and body butters and body scrubs into these little clear bottles. If you didn’t label them correctly, then I’m accidentally using lotion in my hair as a shampoo or I’m applying shampoo to my legs thinking it’s lotion and then my legs are all soapy! Those experiences are not fun when you’re just trying to enjoy your vacation and look beautiful for your photos/selfies. This is why I knew that the idea for travel-size haircare in my vending machines would be popular because it solves a problem in my community.
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When did you decide to use your experiences and convert them into a business?
Well, back in 2019 I was actually planning on opening up a beauty supply originally. When the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, and I had a few conversations with some of my mentors I realized that I didn’t have much money to put towards this business and I wanted to make it stretch any way that I knew how. I had to become resourceful and think on my feet quickly. I started thinking about how I could offer something creative that black women have never seen before, something for us by us. I have always been fascinated by vending machines, but when I went online I realized there were not a lot of retail brands that only offered travel-size or sample-size hair care products for ethnic hair. And that is when the idea sparked in my brain! I could offer travel size, TSA-approved, convenient sizes of hair care brands that women are already familiar with, small enough for them to fit in their purses or pack with them in their carry-on for their next vacation.
What inspired you to sell beauty products in vending machines?
I knew I wanted to do vending machines and I knew I wanted to offer something that WOC didn’t have yet. I sketched it out on paper first because I had to take it from my brain to something tangible. I realized that if a 12 oz Coca-Cola can fit inside of coils in a vending machine, so can a 3 oz or a 4 oz shampoo or leave-in conditioner, and that’s how I got started. I had never seen beauty supply products inside of a vending machine before I saw them inside of mine, but I had seen a lot of other crazy ideas in vending machines so at the end of the day I figured I would wing it and worry about the rest later.
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How did you conceptualize the design for your custom vending machines?
I hired a graphic designer, and I had several phone calls with her and sketched out my ideas telling her what colors I wanted and what kind of look I was looking for with the brand, and she sent me a few mock ups we went back and forth via email for two or three months. Just figuring out the logo and making sure that even small things like the verbiage being used and the images of the women on graphics were reflective of our demographic and who we were speaking to in our audience. I also got a website designer to start figuring out how to transform my website from a beauty supply, which was the original idea, transitioning it to a beauty vending machine company that solely sells travel-size hair products. It was a long process and very detailed.
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What challenges did you encounter sourcing TSA-friendly sizes from Black-owned brands?
There were a lot of challenges, and there still are a lot of challenges. You have to remember we started this business during a pandemic so there were supply chain issues and honestly we still run into these issues today. Some of our vendors and suppliers only sell certain brands, because they don’t have contracts with other larger brands so then you have to go out and actively find vendors and suppliers that have brands that your customers are asking for. Then, do you want to carry products that are popular but then you find out that that brand has harmful chemicals or they are going through a lawsuit or things like that for example. So, when running the company, you have to make daily decisions to figure out what is best for your customers, but what will also be easiest to get access to with your suppliers. Also, some of our favorite brands are still new brands themselves so while they may be popular in the Black community some of them don’t even offer travel sizes, so that was yet another obstacle we faced.
The beauty industry is expanding for natural hair, what determines which products can be sold in a vending machine?
Yes! And that’s a great thing. There are a lot of things that determine which products can be sold in a vending machine such as price, popularity (what will sell or what won’t sell”>, and also location – what might be popular in some climates or cities may not be widespread in others.
What is on the horizon from Tress-Obsessed in 2023?
Tress Obsessed is still a small brand and we still have a lot of growing to do. For 2023, with a possible recession on the way, we are pivoting our focus to our online presence. We will be putting a pause on any vending machine launches for the next 6-8 months, we want to focus on building out a new travel affiliate program to give the opportunity to travel agents and travel groups who want to make money promoting the brand. We also just hired a new social media manager which is very exciting! We want to grow our TikTok & Twitter audience as well as put new offerings on our website like subscription boxes and new digital products for our entrepreneurial customers.
Find a Tress Obsessed vending machine near you.