For 25 years, IJ has advocated for entrepreneurs’ right to earn an honest living. We often do this by challenging government-issued licenses that have nothing to do with protecting the public’s health and safety, but everything to do with protecting entrenched interests. One of the most absurd forms of such licenses is those restricting natural hair braiding. Many states require hair braiders to obtain cosmetology licenses—which have nothing to do with the practice of hair braiding.
Kentucky’s laws are some of the worst in the nation, tied with two other states for 44th place. In order to become a licensed cosmetologist there and braid hair legally, you have to obtain 1,800 hours of irrelevant cosmetology classes and perform a six-month apprenticeship. This burden is absurd when applied to natural hair braiding, which traces its roots back over 5,000 years to Africa and is an important form of cultural expression.
The vast majority of braiders affected by this law are first-generation immigrants from West Africa, who are full of entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to live the American dream. Many of them have been braiding hair since they were little girls: it’s a traditional part of their culture. They don’t need to be told how to do their jobs by some government-approved school.
Yet despite the fact that many of these hard-working women would like to establish their own salons offering hair braiding services, they are forced to operate in the shadows of the law, if they operate at all. The government is once again cutting the lowest rungs off the economic ladder.
These laws don’t protect the public’s health or safety. They accomplish two things: they create an artificial market for cosmetology schools, and they “protect” already-licensed cosmetologists by outlawing the competition.
To put a stop to this, IJ is working with Kentucky State Senator Perry Clark, who has introduced S.B. 269, which defines “natural hair braiding” and exempts these braiders from the requirement to have a cosmetology license. This would be a dramatic turnaround in Kentucky’s law and a very positive development for economic liberty.