J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 15, 2018

The Rhode Island House of Representatives voted unanimously on Thursday to eliminate cosmetology licensing requirements 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 1,200 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.

Natural hair braiding has a proud cultural lineage that goes back for centuries. It is distinct from modern cosmetology.  Unlike cosmetologists, braiders do not use any harsh chemicals, dyes or heat. Adding to the absurdity, cosmetology schools do not teach natural braiding styles or techniques. Sponsored by Rep. Anastasia Williams, HB 7565 would fully exempt braiding from the state’s licensing laws.

The Senate companion bill, SB 2323, is still awaiting a vote by the Senate Commerce Committee.

“Rhode Island 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. “This legislation has overwhelming support, and we urge the Senate to vote on it.  Not doing so means denying economic opportunity for hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs, who are predominantly women of color. A dream deferred is a dream denied.”

Today, half the country—25 states—no longer force hair braiders to get a license to work. Those states include Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.