Ash Patel’s future looked bright in 2009. The Indian immigrant owned three eyebrow threading salons in Texas, employed 11 people, and had recently signed leases on seven new locations. But then, without warning, Texas regulators decided to start treating threading as cosmetology—and threaders without esthetician licenses as criminals. Never mind that cosmetology schools in Texas did not teach this technique for removing unwanted hair using only cotton thread or that the state’s licensing exams for estheticians did not test it.
Ash’s business was thrown into turmoil. Unable to staff his new locations, Ash was eventually forced to default on his leases, lay off his employees and shutter his existing salons.
Ash’s story is not unusual. All across the nation, arbitrary and irrational occupational regulations are driving service providers out of business or underground and preventing others from ever getting going.
But Ash fought back, joining with the Institute for Justice to sue Texas. And, in 2015, he won, with the Texas Supreme Court reaffirming the right of all Texans to earn a living in their chosen occupation without unreasonable government interference. The high court’s landmark ruling also established a new legal standard, one offering greater protection for economic liberty under the Texas Constitution than that currently available under the U.S. Constitution.
Now Ash is back in business, with three threading salons now open and another five planned for 2018. He employs seven people and will be hiring many more to work at his new locations. He has also inspired others to create their own jobs. During a 2016 visit to Houston, a grateful stranger approached Ash to tell him that she had opened her own threading salon following his victory. Ash estimates that there are now 500 to 600 threading salons operating in Texas.
Ash sees the competition as good for business. In fact, he plans to start an association to train threaders on proper hygiene and professionalism in general. He believes that helping threaders improve their quality of service will only drive demand for threading.
Since 1991, IJ has helped to strike down or defang more than 40 occupational licenses, freeing countless other entrepreneurs from unnecessary and cumbersome licensing requirements, allowing them to get back to business. Below are some of their stories.
In 2013, Grace Granatelli was a privately certified canine massage therapist, and owner of her own canine massage business, with close to a decade of experience and a host of appreciative canine clients. But then Arizona’s veterinary board declared animal massage to be the practice of veterinary medicine, requiring a full veterinary license to practice. Facing the possibility of jail time, Grace stopped working with her furry clients. But she also fought back with IJ’s help, challenging the board in court. In early 2017, the board finally capitulated, allowing Grace to get back to work. Since her victory, Grace is happy to be helping dogs again. Her client base has been growing steadily, and she receives requests from new clients weekly.
When immigrants Bill Main and Tonia Edwards introduced guided Segway tours to the nation’s capital in 2005, they had no idea the District of Columbia required a license for tour guides—until licensed guides started telling them so. Bill and Tonia balked at the idea they needed government permission to talk for a living, so they continued giving tours unlicensed, risking fines and jail time. They also teamed with IJ in 2014 to get the licensing law overturned. Today, Bill and Tonia no longer fear harassment by the police or busybody guides. They have added more tours to their roster and estimate that they have provided jobs to more than 100 guides over the years.
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed their timberland, the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey needed a new source of income. Finally, they hit upon a solution: caskets. For years, the simple wooden caskets the monks made for themselves had attracted interest from people wanting to buy them, so the monks set up shop. But before they had sold even a single casket with their new venture, the state tried to shut them down. In Louisiana, only licensed funeral directors could legally sell caskets—i.e., big, empty boxes. Together with IJ, the monks challenged the law and in 2013 won in federal appellate court. The casket-making operation has helped the monks support themselves and inspired other entrepreneurial ventures. Today, the monks also sell Abbee Honey and Monk Soap.
When Essence Farmer moved to Maryland for college in 2000, she helped pay the bills by braiding hair in a salon and a barbershop, no license required. But when she moved back to Arizona a few years later, she needed a 1,600-hour cosmetology license to practice her craft. So Essence teamed up with IJ and in 2004 won an exemption for natural hair stylists from the state’s cosmetology regime. Today, Essence owns an award-winning natural hair styling studio, which she plans to franchise. Aspiring stylists have come from as far away as Boston to work in her studio and a number of her employees have gone on to start their own businesses. Essence is now working to reach even more people through her online academy, which offers training in both braiding and business.