Getting your hair braided is something I’ve always taken for granted. You grab your bundles (if you want added hair); you go to your favorite salon, family member, friend, friend of a friend or acquaintance; you may or may not drop some coin; and you walk away feeling like a million bucks.
But apparently, in Tennessee, things are not quite that simple: The Institute for Justice revealed that almost $100,000 in fines have been levied against several braiders and more than 30 different natural-hair shops and salons since 2009 because of “unlicensed braiding.”
Nick Sibilla, a writer and legislative analyst for the Institute for Justice, wrote in Forbes that all of the violations have been for unlicensed braiding and that none of the fines were prompted because of any health or sanitation violation.
The Institute for Justice looked over meeting minutes and disciplinary actions for the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners and noted that typically the board would issue a $1,000 “civil penalty” for every instance of “performing natural hair care services for clients without a license” it encounters.
The board has targeted braiders who work from their homes or unlicensed salons, and even licensed shops that have employed workers who do not have a government license to braid hair.
One such salon owner, Fatou Diouf, has been forced to pay some $16,000 in fines because she employed workers without licenses.
Diouf described the fines as “very stressful.” She is on a payment plan for her most recent violations and has to cough up more than $830 a month to the state, on top of handling her business, providing for her children, managing her divorce and sending money back to her family in Senegal.
However, Diouf is working to change this, fighting for reform and testifying in favor of a bill that would put an end to the state’s license for natural-hair stylists, as well as its basis for fining braiders.
“We can create more employment if this bill passes,” she said.
Currently, Tennessee mandates that only licensed “natural hair stylists” can earn a living by braiding, twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending or locking hair; however, securing such a license can often be a burden. Potential braiders must finish at least 300 hours of coursework, which, the institute notes, is equivalent to working almost two months full time. To top it off? Only about three schools in the entire state offer the relevant courses, charging anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 for tuition.
Diouf recalled that for her, it was “mostly a waste of time.”
“We don’t need 300 hours to know how to wash a clip or a comb,” she said.
“I never did any other job but hair braiding my whole life,” she added. “I cannot recall a time when I did not know how.”
Many braiders are the same.
“They’re not going to learn something they already knew,” Diouf said. “Why would we pay thousands of dollars just to take a test?”
And so, because of those requirements and the insistent crackdowns, it has been difficult for shop owners like Diouf to secure employees.
The article notes that there are only about 156 licensed natural-hair stylists in Tennessee—far fewer than Mississippi, which has more or less the same black population but more than 16 times as many braiders legally working.
Of course, that’s because Mississippi doesn’t require natural-hair stylists to be licensed—the state only requires braiders to be registered with the Department of Health and pay a $25 fee. That’s it.
Fortunately, though, the issue in Tennessee may soon come to an end.
Fortunately, lawmakers may soon untangle the state’s mess of licensing red tape. On behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam, Rep. David Hawk and Sen. Mark Norris have sponsored HB 1809 and SB 2233, which would repeal the state license for natural hair stylists.
In an unusual twist, the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (which includes the state Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners) is also backing the bill. When the bill was heard by the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee last month, the Department’s own deputy commissioner, Brian McCormack, even criticized the license requirements and costs as “overly burdensome.” (Representatives from the Department denied repeated requests for comment.)