Washington Hair Braiding

Sylla v. Kohler
Washington Plays Games With African Hair Braiders’ Livelihoods

In 2005, African hair braider Benta Diaw sued Washington’s Department of Licensing after an effort to condition her and other braiders’ ability to braid hair for compensation on an irrelevant and burdensome state-cosmetology license. In response, the Department announced that braiding does notand will not—require a cosmetology license.

Fast forward nine years and the very same Department continues to play games with braiders’ livelihoods.

Today, Kent-based braider Salamata Sylla, represented by the Institute for Justice, filed a major federal lawsuit in Seattle, seeking a judicial order requiring the Department to adhere to its stated position that African, or natural, hair braiding does not require a cosmetology license. The lawsuit comes after Department officials arrived at Salamata’s salon and ordered her to obtain such a license if she wants to continue braiding.

To become a cosmetologist in Washington, Salamata would need to spend 1,600 in cosmetology school, but not one minute learning hair braiding. That is more than ten times the number of hours required to become an animal control officer, emergency medical technician and security guard—combined.

Salamata came to the United States from Senegal in 1999. She has been braiding hair since she was a little girl. She learned to braid the way many African girls do—by practicing on her family and friends. A single mom, Salamata opened Sally’s Africain Hair Braiding in 2012. (Salamata, like many Senegalese, prefers the French spelling of “Africain.”) There, she exclusively practices African hair braiding—a safe, 5,000 year-old practice that is deeply rooted in African cultural heritage.

Salamata’s challenge to Washington’s regulation of braiders is one of three cases being launched on the same day as part of a new IJ National Hair Braiding Initiative, which seeks to protect braiders’ right to earn an honest living, free from arbitrary government interference. IJ is also taking on Missouri’s and Arkansas’ regulation of braiders.


Essential Background

Audio, Video and Images

Backgrounder: Untangling Entrepreneurs from Washington’s Illogical Restrictions on African Hair Braiding

Client Video

Client Photos

Latest Release: Hair Braider’s Lawsuit on Hold—For Now (November 17, 2014)

Launch Release: Washington Plays Games With African Hair Braiders’ Livelihoods (June 17, 2014)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Complaint (June 17, 2014)
Regulation of Natural Hair Braiding Interpretive Statement (January 24, 2005)
Declaration of Trudie Touchette (September 20, 2004)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


June 17, 2014

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington



None available

 Current Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington


  Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

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Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: States Don't Understand African Hair Braiding. That Hurts These Small-Business Owners. National Journal (October 2, 2014)
Article: A Kent Woman, by way of Senegal, Fights for Her Right to Braid Hair KIRO-FM (June 30, 2014)
Article: Kent hair braider sues state over licensing rules Seattle Times (June 17, 2014)
Article: Dept. of Licensing tangles with hair stylist in lawsuit KING-TV (June 17, 2014)

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