J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 23, 2017

Today, the Rhode Island House of Representatives voted unanimously to eliminate the state’s expensive, unnecessary and time-consuming licensing requirement for African-style natural hair braiders. Under Rhode Island law, braiders can only work if they first obtain a cosmetology license, which takes at least 1,500 hours of training. Only six states have stricter requirements. But if enacted, HB 5436 will exempt braiding from the state’s licensing laws.

“The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as braiding hair,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice. “These reforms would eliminate a completely arbitrary regulation that stops braiders from earning an honest living.”

“For centuries, natural hair braiding has been a common practice for African and African American women,” noted Rep. Anastasia Williams, who sponsored the bill and chairs the Legislative Black and Latino Caucus. “Natural hair braiding is an art form, limited only by the braiders’ creativity and does not require any kind of formal training. Forcing braiders to meet the same licensing requirements as cosmetologists is a clear injustice.”

Unlike cosmetologists, braiders do not use any harsh chemicals or dyes. And many cosmetology schools do not teach natural braiding styles or techniques. Yet in Rhode Island and 13 other states, braiders must first become licensed cosmetologists or hairstylists. That forces them to waste thousands of dollars on tuition to learn skills that are completely irrelevant to their occupation.

“This bill allows braiders like me the ability to make an honest living, while following our dreams and fulfilling our passion,” said Jocelyn DoCouto, a local natural hair braider and an advocate for the bill.  “With the passage of this bill, I can establish a better life for my kids while doing something I love to do.”

Rhode Island may soon join a growing, nationwide movement to get government regulators out of braiders’ hair. Currently, 22 states have exempted hair braiding entirely from licensing laws, including, most recently, South Dakota and Indiana. Last week, New Hampshire sent a braiding exemption bill to the governor’s desk. And in Louisiana, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that would eliminate the state’s 500-hour specialty license to braid hair.

Since its founding, the Institute for Justice has filed over a dozen lawsuits on behalf of natural hair braiders and is currently challenging licensing for braiding in Missouri. Last year, the Institute for Justice published 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.