Missouri Hair Braiders File Federal Lawsuit to Untangle State’s Cosmetology Scheme

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 16, 2014

St. Louis, Mo.—If you want to braid hair for a living in Missouri, you must spend thousands of dollars on at least 1,500 hours of cosmetology training that teaches you nothing about African-style hair braiding. That’s more time and money than it takes to become a licensed EMT in the state. But a new federal lawsuit filed today seeks to change that.

Missouri entrepreneurs Joba Niang and Tameka Stigers are successful African-style hair braiders with decades of experience. But Missouri is forcing them to learn how to give manicures and facials, even though they do not want to offer those services at their studios. Joba and Tameka have teamed up with the Institute for Justice, which has previously won eight similar challenges across the nation.

“Licensing laws are a convenient cover for protecting a regulated industry from competition,” explained IJ Attorney Dan Alban, who is also lead counsel in the case. “By forcing hair braiders like Joba and Tameka to learn things they don’t need in order to get an expensive license, Missouri is protecting licensed cosmetologists from competition and making consumers to pay more.”

Traditional or African-style braiding traces back thousands of years. Today, thousands of people engage in the intricate craft of twisting, braiding, weaving and locking hair in natural styles, mostly for African-American clients. These distinct techniques are generally grouped together under the rubric of “natural hair care” because they do not use any chemicals, heat or other artificial hairstyling techniques.

“African-style hair braiding has allowed me to start a successful business and provide for my family,” said Joba Niang. “All I want is to be able to continue providing my customers with a valuable service free from the fear of fines and penalties.”

“African-style hair braiding is safe and you shouldn’t need the government’s permission to practice this trade,” said Greg Reed, an IJ attorney. “The U.S. Constitution protects every individual’s right to earn an honest living in their chosen occupation free from pointless government interference. When the government imposes unreasonable regulations, as it has done here, courts must protect those rights. No one should have to hire a lawyer or lobbyist just to braid hair.”

Today’s lawsuit is part of IJ’s new Braiding Freedom initiative, which seeks to put an end to outdated cosmetology laws. IJ filed two additional federal lawsuits challenging braiding restrictions in Arkansas and Washington and launched a website and video aimed at educating Americans about the issue.