J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 10, 2019

Rhode Island became the latest state to deregulate hair braiding thanks to a bill signed Monday by Gov. Gina Raimondo. Previously, braiders could only work if they first obtained a hairdresser license, which takes at least 1,200 hours, far more than what’s required to become a licensed emergency medical technician. Tuition to attend a cosmetology school in Rhode Island can cost over $17,000.

But under HB 5677, braiders are now completely exempt from licensing and can work without a government permission slip. Rhode Island is now the 28th state to end licensing for hair braiders, with 17 states enacting their reforms in just the past five years. Earlier this year, Minnesota and North Dakota also deregulated the practice.

“After years of fighting for this reform, I’m thrilled braiders in my state can finally work out of the shadows and build businesses without wasting thousands of hours and dollars learning practices they don’t do, like coloring, blow drying and cutting,” said Rep. Anastasia Williams (D- District 9, Providence), who sponsored the bill. “African-style, natural hair braiding is about our culture—it’s about celebrating our history, strength and diversity. We can now fully continue to celebrate, cherish and protect our right of our culture, and the opportunity for economic empowerment through hair braiding work.”

With a rich heritage spanning millennia, natural hair braiding is a beauty practice common in many African American and African immigrant communities. Unlike cosmetologists, braiders do not cut hair or use any harsh chemicals or dyes in their work.

“We never stopped trying, even when it seemed like the odds were against us; this victory shows progress heading in the right direction both economically as well as culturally,” said Jocelyn DoCouto of Pawtucket, a hair braider and leader of the Rhode Island Freedom Braiders.  “This day marks a new beginning for me as well as the many braiders in Rhode Island.”

Since its founding, the Institute for Justice has filed over a dozen lawsuits on behalf of natural hair braiders and is currently challenging a specialty braiding licensing in Louisiana. The Institute for Justice has also published a study, Barriers to Braiding: How Job-Killing Licensing Laws Tangle Natural Hair Care in Needless Red Tape, which found that braiders received very few complaints and that strict licensing laws stifle economic opportunity.

“This is a great win for entrepreneurship, economic liberty and just plain common sense,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice. “The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as braiding hair. HB 5677 will expand economic opportunity, especially for female entrepreneurs and people of color.”