Two women who braid hair in the African style say state law violates their “constitutional right to economic liberty” and they’ve filed a lawsuit.
Under current law, the women must get a cosmetology license to open a hair braiding business. That requires more than two-thousand hours of training at a cosmetology school, even though the majority of instruction does not relate to braiding and few schools teach the kind of “microbraiding” that’s common in African cultures. Aicheria Bell would like to open up her own hair-braiding business, but because of state regulations she can only work as a salon assistant.
“I feel like this has been like a human’s rights issue, an identity issue, especially as Americans that are being labeled as black and African American, you know, we’re fighting for our national rights,” she says, “just to be ourselves.”
Achan Agit was born in what is now South Sudan and she’s been braiding hair since she was five. Since she doesn’t have a high school degree, Agit cannot apply to cosmetology school, so she can’t open up a hair braiding shop.
“I don’t have a job. I just had a baby and I braid hair at home. I buy diapers. I buy soap. I put gas in my car. I pay my car insurance for it, but I don’t get much because I do hair at home,” she says. “It’s less than when I’m supposed to have my shop I will charge more than when I’m doing hair at home.”
This past spring a group of legislators met with officials from the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences and a group of women who want to make money with a “microbraiding” business, trying to come up with an alternative state certification process, but the effort stalled.
Cosmetologists argued if the women take money for braiding hair, they should at least be required to take a course about proper hygene and how to recognize skin and hair problems.
Others say microbraiding is part of African cultures and recent immigrants could earn a good living doing it. Some salons that offer the service charge $200 per braiding session. A few other states with licensing requirements for hair braiders similar to Iowa’s have been sued — and lost.