Indianapolis' Black entrepreneurs launch unique vending machines

Mikayla Walker was thinking outside the box when she moved to expand her beauty business of mink eyelashes and other cosmetics.

For that, she actually took to a box; a large pink and black one that she placed on the third floor of Circle Centre Mall in 2021. The vending machine dispenses 10 styles of eyelashes from her Mikayla Janee Collection. Face Powder Press Machine


Press a button, insert your credit card or cash and — presto! — a set of lashes for $5. Want to put some shine to those lips, too? Get a set of lashes and gloss for 8 bucks.

Walker, 25, had started her cosmetics business in 2021. As a student at Indiana State University, she would be the go-to girl for assistance in doing eyebrow makeup and lashes.

“I thought that I might as well come out with my own cosmetic brand since everybody knows me for that anyway,” said Walker, who lives in Fishers.

She got a company to manufacture the lashes according to her specifications and set up a Lash Line where customers could text for deliveries.

A vending machine, she figured, would handle customers she, a full-time life enrichment director, couldn’t get to.

“I wanted something where I could still sell my lashes without me having to physically be there 24/7 because I would get so many orders,” she said.

Ever supportive, her mother bought Walker a used vending machine and Walker hired Indy-based Killer Wraps to apply decals to the tech, on which she spends $1,500 to $2000 a month to keep stocked and in place at the mall.

Walker wouldn’t be the last to bring a beauty vending machine to Circle Centre.

Circle Centre Mall:Company that developed Bottleworks District makes a deal to buy Indy mall

Tonya Moore in November installed a Lavish Kozmetics machine on the mall's second floor to dispense elaborately designed press-on nails, Lip Plumper gloss and vegan shampoo for false lashes. It's an expansion of her cashmere and mink lash and nail-centric business.

Because there was already an eyelash vending machine there, Moore leaned more into the vegan eyelash shampoo, cosmetics and $15 nailsets. On one visit a customer might score a set of pastel yellow nails with gold flakes and pink flowers. Or another with a white base, topped with blue and pink floral designs. Others are in various combinations of pinks. 

The next day the machine might be stocked with something different; for example, nail patterns with designer logos the likes of Fendi and Chanel. Or even hair bonnets and headbands.

Walker and Moore are making it a lot easier to get glammed up on the fly, offering some favorite last-minute necessities to complete looks.

It’s a small, but growing, market, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association, a trade association representing vending, micro markets and office coffee service.

Of about 3.1 million vending machines in the U.S., 88,000, or 8% sell non-food items. Of those, about 3,500, or 4%, vend beauty supplies, said Bill Meierling, NAMA’s senior vice president for external affairs.

But it’s riding a wave of specialty machines in the market as snacks and beverage items move from vending machines to micro markets inside of offices and hotels, where items are stocked on shelves by payment is made via kiosks set up in the areas, Meierling said.

The beauty market generated about $430 billion in revenue in 2022 in the U.S. and is expected to reach approximately $580 billion by 2027, according to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

“The trend that we’re seeing right now is that technology is making convenience even more convenient through unattended retail,” Meierling said.

'Maddening and heart-wrenching':Local group saves, shares food wasted for looks

Of course, it's not a new trend. 

In 2019, Kylie Cosmetics vending machines went into the Las Vegas airport selling lip kits and pressed powder kits and spread to other facilities, including Indianapolis International Airport in 2021. A decade before that though, Sephora vending machines dispensed some of the company’s most popular products. Then Benefit Cosmetics in 2013 and Essie in 2014 opened vending machines in airports and malls.

But now the ability to get an item last minute is greater with machines stocked with natural hair care products and wigs going into student union buildings on college campuses, laundromats and military bases, often thanks to emerging entrepreneurs.

— Idaho-based Leyva Beauty operates an eyelash and makeup machine in a laundromat. The company opened its first machine in 2021 and now has five in the state.

— Diva by Cindy machines, dispensing natural hair care products for Black consumers, are at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Anne Arundel County in Maryland; Fort Belvoir military bases in Virginia; Fort Jackson in South Carolina. 

— Sugar Intoxicated machines are dispensing bundles, wigs and bond glue Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston in Texas; Forts Lee and Belvoir in Virginia; and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. 

— The Beauty Genie, based in Chicago, Illinois, sells hair bundles, shampoos, edge control and bonnets from a machine at Chicago Union Station after starting with a machine selling Black hair care products such as bundles, braiding hair, shampoos, edge control and bonnets at Chicago Union Station, and is placing the machines on college campuses, starting with The University of Olivet in Michigan.

Larger players continue to show interest. 

AmeriKiosks has machines dispensing Glamnetic eyelashes and nails. And is working with CVS to develop vending machines for its branded beauty products, said founder and CEO Alejandro Rodriguez. Rodriguez in 2014 founded Pharmabox, which is in hotels and resorts across the country. He started AmeriKiosks in 2020  “Just to have those brands reach those locations where brick and mortar can’t,” he said.

That includes five Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

Others that have headed to or near college campuses include the Dashing Bundles machine in Meridian Mall near East Lansing, Michigan, dispensing hair bundles, wigs, combs and brushes; the Glam Queen vending machine at Galleria mall in Warner Robins, Georgia, that opened in 2021 to sell bundle hair extensions, wigs (a $300 frontal is among the options), lashes and press-on nails; and YOUniversity Beauty which a pair of University of Michigan students installed on the Ann Arbor campus to vend hair oils, do-rags, hair glue, hair ties and brushes.

Many of those being installed in the U.S. are from young African-American women like Walker and Moore.

Black U.S. consumers spent $8 billion on beauty and cosmetics and spend at a faster rate than the overall market, according to a Nielsen report.

There’s more to come.

Walker will be adding a second machine; this one with a greater variety of products. Expect lip gloss along with the lashes.

Moore, 29, is readying a machine dedicated to men’s grooming items. Think beard oil, skin moisturizer, and grooming kits for mustaches and nails. She's finalizing a location, but expects to install the guy-centric vending machine in early 2024.

Moore began selling her line of mink and cashmere eyelashes, from her east side Indianapolis home, following a passion for cosmetics developed as a teen. 

“I've always been a girly girl. There’s always been something about the cosmetic field in general like whether it was makeup, nails, hair,” Moore said. “I spend tons and tons of money on that type of stuff. I thought maybe I should start doing my own thing.”

But it was important for her to be at home — she’d quit her job as a home health care aide to care for her ailing mother who lived with her and her husband.

Moore was looking for a way to market when the idea of the vending machine came. It would allow her to sell without having to be on site.

“I can put my brand on it. I can put in and take out my supplies and keep it going that way,” Moore said. “We walked the entire mall, and once I saw that location, I felt like it was calling my name.”


Cosmetic Powder Pressing Machine Contact IndyStar reporter Cheryl V. Jackson at or 317-444-6264. Follow her on @cherylvjackson.