KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A good hair day doesn’t begin with a shampoo and conditioner. It starts with having access to the right hair care products, which has been a struggle for Black students on WMU’s campus until recently.
Tucked inside the lower floor of the student center sits a community treasure, a Black hair care vending machine.
“Instead of making an entire trip onto West Main to get hair products that are going to cost way more, it's really good to know that we can just come here,” said Naomi Todd, a junior on campus.
“I don't have a lot of money. So these prices are really nice, and just supporting a local business, in general, is something I care about,” added Leyah Mehari, a sophomore.
Friends Leyah and Naomi are relieved to only walk 15 minutes for products specifically for their hair. That's half the time it would take to walk or bus to the local beauty supply store.
The convenience is made possible by the co-owner of the Key Lounge, Kiara Bastian.
“We didn't have any supplies like such as age control or just a simple shampoo to get our hair through the week. So I always made it a point to go home,” says Kiara Bastian, who remembers being a student at WMU.
She told FOX 17 there were times when she had to go home two to four times a month just to keep up with her hair.
“It wasn't just at the tip of our fingers; we really had to find a way to go get the supplies. You either have to have somebody with the card that you knew or you either had to honestly just try to figure it out the best way you could,” she said.
Instead of students having to do what she did, she made it a priority to bring the essential products to them.
Whether it’s gel, mousse or edge control, students will have what they need to get them through the week.
“The average Walgreens, CVS or even Walmart may not carry the Black culture hair care products that we might need.” Bastian says access to products for textured hair can be challenging wherever you go. “As a licensed cosmetologist myself, we have to go to three stores alone just to get the proper hair care products that we need for each client.”
Bastian hopes one day that will change.
“Now that the culture is changing, we're able to express ourselves through our hair; we're able to be who we want to be; we are able to stand strong and confident with our hairstyles being important to us and making sure we get it done when we want it done,” she said.
There are plans to increase the selections offered in the vending machine and add a suggestion box for students who may need more than what is currently stocked.