Arizona Hairbraiders Declare Independence From State Cosmetology Regime

October 1, 2006

Arizona Hairbraiders Declare Independence From State Cosmetology Regime

By Tim Keller

Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter Executive Director Tim Keller and IJ client Essence Farmer celebrate the opening of her shop. Farmer is also joined by family and friends at the grand opening of Rare Essence Studio.

On a hot Arizona night this past July, I experienced one of the most gratifying moments of my career as an IJ attorney. Standing in a small shopping center in Glendale, with my arm around IJ client Essence Farmer’s shoulder, the sign hanging from her new storefront said it all: Grand Opening.

Two and a half years ago, Essence Farmer asked the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter (IJ-AZ) for help because her American Dream was more like a nightmare because of Arizona’s occupational licensing laws. The State demanded that she license and register her hands or face fines and up to six months in jail. No, she’s not a martial arts expert or a secret agent. She is a natural haircare practitioner whose entrepreneurial spirit has sustained her in a long fight for independence.

To obtain a license to braid hair, the Arizona Board of Cosmetology required 1,600 hours of training, at a cost of $10,000 or more. Not one hour of the State-mandated curriculum requires instruction in the art of hairbraiding. Perhaps worse is that the bulk of the training would have exposed Essence to harsh chemicals that are anathema to her practice.

An all-natural technique, hairbraiding requires no chemicals. Instead, she works with the innate texture of the hair to create intricate, individualized braids. Thus, natural hairbraiding is not just about aesthetic beauty; it is also a way to reverse the damage created by years of harsh chemical treatment.

Essence and IJ-AZ filed a lawsuit to untangle the mess created by Arizona’s onerous cosmetology regime. The case caused a media uproar. The absurdity of allowing only licensed cosmetologists (who are not trained in cosmetology schools to lock, twist or braid hair naturally) to perform natural hairbraiding was obvious to all but those in the cosmetology industry. Absent training from someone like Essence, cosmetology school graduates do not possess the skills required to braid hair naturally.

At the most basic level, people understood that preventing braiders from pursuing their trade violated one of our most precious, though oft-forgotten, civil rights: the right to earn an honest living without unreasonable government interference. This visceral reaction to the injustice of Arizona’s cosmetology cartel caused the state Legislature to intervene and exempt natural hairbraiders from the Cosmetology Board’s jurisdiction.

With her way clear to embark on her American Dream, Essence put in motion her plans to open her new business. After navigating the local permitting process, Essence launched Rare Essence Studio. The grand opening was a joyous celebration. Family, friends and clients packed the studio to celebrate the freedom that made Essence’s new business possible. Her pastor prayed a blessing, and Essence and I talked about the rough days she endured before taking her first step up the proverbial economic ladder.

The “essence” of liberty is freedom from unjust or undue governmental control. And now Essence Farmer is busy using her hands to demonstrate the tangible benefits of liberty.

Tim Keller is the executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter.

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