A new vending machine sells Black beauty supplies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Mia Wilson and Rico Ozuna-Harrison created the machine to give more options to students of color.
They say students previously had to travel out of town to find basic haircare products.
According to Mia Wilson and Rico Ozuna-Harrison, it’s not unusual for students of color to leave the comfort of the University of Michigan’s campus, nestled in Ann Arbor, to scour neighboring cities for basic haircare products.
That’s why the pair, both 22, created the YOUniversity Beauty vending machine, a beauty supply vending machine settled into the basement of the university’s Union building, a common student hub. The vending machine sells hair oils, do-rags, bonnets, hair ties, brushes, and other needed items with prices similar to beauty stores. Do-rags are $5, while castor oil sells for $10. Ozuna-Harrison showed off the vending machine and its products in a TikTok video in January.
Wilson, an alumna who graduated in May 2021, said the lack of local options forced her to visit nearby cities like Ypsilanti — about 15 minutes away — or drive an hour back to her hometown Clinton Township to stockpile products. Black students make up just 4.26% of the 48,090 students enrolled at the University of Michigan.
“Fortunately, I was one of a few students who had transportation,” Wilson said. “People have to go to stores like CVS to get products, which aren’t always suitable for people of colors’ hair textures.'”
The YOUniversity Beauty vending machine was created under their business, Innovending LLC, which seeks to create access to beauty and self-care products for minorities in Ann Arbor with vending machines. The business, which is the two’s first official venture, launched in 2021 and the vending machine was installed around October of that year.
The idea sparked when Wilson and Ozuna-Harrison realized other students were experiencing the same struggles
Wilson recalled how options were scarce, prompting students of color to use group messaging apps like GroupMe to find everything from barbers to nail technicians. Wilson also runs a beauty business, making and selling weaves, wigs, and other items.
“Every other day, someone was asking, ‘who can braid hair’ or ‘who can give haircuts?” she said.
Ozuna-Harrison, a fifth-year medical student, said a fellow student told him that they once felt insecure during an interview after running out of products and the stores in nearby cities were out of stock.
“People spoke about insecurities they had when you’re not able to look your best,” he said. “Some students started to talk about how they felt that they weren’t a priority in Ann Arbor.”
Wilson and Ozuna-Harrison soon launched their business with the help of the University of Michigan’s OptiMize program
Wilson and Ozuna-Harrison worked together in OptiMize’s Social Innovation Challenge, which helped the duo fine-tune their plan and awarded them a $10,000 grant in 2021 to jump-start the vending machine business. The program ran from October 2021 to February 2021. They purchased their first vending machine for $7,000, and it was officially installed on campus last fall.
“One thing I really appreciated was that the university supported our idea,” Ozuna-Harrison said. “As a minority attending a predominately white institution, I feel like you have to fight to be heard, and it feels like the people we were in contact with were all for it.”
The University of Michigan did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Wilson added that their hard work also contributed to Innovending LLC’s growth.
“We put all this time into our business, like getting an LLC and making sure we had our sales tax license,” Wilson said, adding that they also organized several surveys to gauge what students were missing in Ann Arbor and drafted an executive business plan.
Wilson and Ozuna-Harrison have already gotten positive feedback so far, noting that students of color have said the vending machine was exactly the kind of change they needed.
The two hope to expand the YOUniversity Beauty vending machines into dorms across the University of Michigan campus and other universities.
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