Braiding Hair Requires a License?

photo credit: Tom Story

To practice her craft legally, Arizona regulators wanted Essence Farmer, an experienced African-style hair braider, to supposedly ‘learn’ her unique specialty by completing a $10,000, 1,600-hour cosmetology course that does not include African hair braiding techniques.

Braiding Hair Requires a License?

Essence Farmer first began braiding hair when she was ten years old. Specializing in African-style hair braiding, which is considered a form of natural hair care because it does not use chemicals or artificial hairstyling techniques, over the years Farmer refined her skills and developed a devoted and trusting list of clients. In 1999 and 2000, she was braiding five to six clients per week out of her parents’ West Valley, Arizona home. Like other African hair braiders and natural hairstylists, Farmer operated her business “underground” because she was not a state-certified cosmetologist.

While attending Prince George’s Community College in suburban Maryland in 2000, Farmer practiced her trade legally and without regulatory interference at the Blowouts Salon and Hairstons. She later returned to Arizona, intending to open her own legitimate hair-braiding business. Unfortunately, her plans went against a 1996 law requiring all hairstyling professionals to be licensed by the Arizona Board of Cosmetology. Acquiring this license is not an easy task for naturally-skilled stylists such as Farmer. To become a licensed cosmetologist in Arizona, one must attend a board-approved cosmetology school and pass an examination. Both criteria result in unnecessary hardships for prospective natural hairstylists. A one-year course at an approved institution can cost nearly $10,000. The training is also rigorous: 1,600 hours of study are required to master a variety of styling and beautifying techniques. Not a single hour is dedicated to natural hairstyling or to the African-style hair-braiding. The required examination is on matters unrelated to African hair-braiding.

Farmer filed a lawsuit in Superior Court of Maricopa County in December, 2003 challenging Arizona’s cosmetology licensing statutes, claiming the occupational licensing laws inhibit viable employment opportunities. Relief proved to be at hand, however. Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano signed into law Senate Bill 1159, which exempts natural hairstylists from the onerous cosmetology requirements.

Commenting on her victory, Farmer said, “I’ve already begun the process of opening Rare Essence Braiding Studio. It is thrilling to be at the center of a movement that will allow entrepreneurs to take their first step on the road to self-employment.”

Sources: The Institute for Justice, Tim Keller, Arizona Board of Cosmetology

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