As of July, braiding hair without a cosmetology license is no longer a crime in the state of Iowa. Two black women, Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit, filed a civil lawsuit against the state’s cosmetology board last fall with the help of the Institute for Justice, claiming that occupational licenses threatened their ability to make a living in Iowa, and disadvantaged black stylists in particular because of the braiding’s racial and cultural roots.
Previously, any stylist who braided hair was required to graduate from high school (or its equivalent) and have a cosmetology license—one that took 2,100 hours and could cost up to $22,000 to obtain. Bell and Agit say that cosmetology school mostly included training unrelated to braiding, and focused instead on more Eurocentric styles. In July, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad exempted hair braiders from the state’s cosmetology licensing laws, and Bell, Agit, and the Institute for Justice dismissed their lawsuit. Now, braiders in Iowa simply need to register with the state.
Licensing laws vary across the U.S.—Arizona and Delaware, for example, require no licenses for braiding hair, while Montana and South Dakota require over more than 2,000 training hours. A new report from the Institute for Justice notes an inverse relationship between the number of licensed or registered hair braiders and the requisite training hours in a state. The study finds that among 12 states and the District of Columbia, the states that demand more training hours have fewer braiders relative to their black populations than states with lighter requirements.