Iowa Hair Braiders File Lawsuit Challenging State Cosmetology Licensing Requirements

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · October 28, 2015

Des Moines, Iowa—Can the government force you to spend $22,000 on 2,100 hours of irrelevant training just so you can do your job? That is what Iowa forces hair braiders to do before they can work.

But a new lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm, and two would-be entrepreneurs who want to braid hair for a living, seeks to end the state’s licensing of hair braiders.

Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit want to start hair braiding businesses in Des Moines. But before they can braid hair for a living, Iowa requires them to spend thousands of dollars on cosmetology training that has nothing to do with hair braiding. That is hundreds more hours than it takes to become an emergency medical technician (EMT) in Iowa, which only requires 120 hours of training. That is why Aicheria and Achan have teamed up with IJ, which has won 11 similar challenges across the nation.

“Iowa has no business licensing something as safe and common as hair braiding,” said IJ attorney Meagan Forbes, lead attorney in this case. “You shouldn’t need the government’s permission to simply braid hair. Iowa’s cosmetology licensing laws create a needless barrier for braiding entrepreneurs who are not cosmetologists and do not practice cosmetology.”

African-style hair braiding dates back centuries. Today, braiders twist, weave, lock and braid hair into intricate hair styles, primarily for customers of African descent. Many braiders learn how to braid hair as children and are taught by family and friends. These techniques generally fall under the rubric of “natural hair care” because they do not involve the use of scissors, chemicals or heat.

“Braiding is a skill I already have. It’s a way to keep my culture alive, and it has helped me provide for my family,” said Aicheria Bell. “I just want the right to earn a living and not feel like I’m a criminal.”

“Iowans have the right to earn an honest living in their chosen occupation free from irrational government interference,” said IJ senior attorney Paul Avelar. “From athletic trainers to travel agents to hair braiders, Iowa licenses more workers than any other state. A victory in this case will help protect all Iowans from senseless occupational licensing laws.”

Today’s lawsuit asserts that the state’s licensing requirements for African-style hair braiders violate their constitutional right to economic liberty, a right guaranteed by both the Iowa Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

This case continues IJ’s national Braiding Freedom Initiative, which seeks to protect braiders’ right to pursue their calling free from unnecessary cosmetology licensing laws.