Matt Powers
Matt Powers · March 8, 2022

BOISE, Idaho—Can the government force you to spend $20,000 on 1,600 hours of irrelevant training just so you can do your job? That is what Idaho requires African style hair braiders to do before they can work.

But a new lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm, on behalf of three female entrepreneurs who want to braid hair for a living, seeks to end the state’s licensing of hair braiders.

Tedy Okech, Charlotte Amoussou and Sonia Ekemon have over 60 years of experience practicing hair braiding between the three of them. It is a safe and common practice that traces back thousands of years. But they cannot charge money to provide this service because Idaho requires braiders to become licensed cosmetologists before they can braid hair for a living.

“I shouldn’t need the government’s permission to use a safe skill I learned when I was little to provide for my family,” said Tedy Okech.

To obtain a cosmetology license, braiders must complete 1,600 hours of training at a cosmetology school— which can cost $20,000 or more—and complete both a written and a practical exam. Idaho does not require cosmetology schools to teach students African style braiding techniques and only 2 out of 110 questions on the written exam test students on braiding. The practical exam does not cover braiding at all.

“Idaho has no business licensing something as safe and common as hair braiding,” said IJ Attorney Caroline Grace Brothers.

Since IJ filed its first lawsuit in 1991 challenging Washington D.C.’s cosmetology license requirement for braiders, 31 states have eliminated licensing requirements for African style braiders. Now, Idaho is one of only five states that still require braiders to obtain a cosmetology license. According to the report Beauty School Debt and Drop-Outs, the average beauty school attendee in Idaho takes out $7,000 in student loans and only about 50% of those students graduate on time.

But requiring a braider to get a license in an unrelated profession is not just bad policy; it’s unconstitutional. The right to earn an honest living is an essential part of our nation’s promise of opportunity and the Constitution does not allow the government to impose onerous licensing requirements on something as safe and common as braiding hair.

“Instead of getting their businesses off the ground, hair braiders in Idaho are tangled in senseless regulation,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “Idaho should not be putting entrepreneurs out of business with unnecessary licensing laws.”