Young girl with braided hair (267051)
Credit: D Sharon Pruitt photo

The State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling recently announced it is issuing a special rule creating a limited license to perform hair braiding services and a licensure requirement for hair braiding shops.

The limited license requires 40 or 50 hours of training, depending on whether the applicant has three years of hair braiding experience at the time of application. This is in contrast to the 1,200 hours of training required to obtain a full cosmetology license. Additionally, the rules increase the number of members on the Board of Cosmetology to 13 and provide that two members must own or operate a hair braiding shop in this state.

Hair braiders and their patrons primarily include African American women and other women of African and/or Caribbean descent. The Legislature and Board seek to remove certain barriers to economic opportunity for individuals who might pursue work as hair braiders, while maintaining consumer protections for their patrons.

In 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wanted lawmakers to go back to the drawing board after vetoing a bill that would have eliminated the requirement for professional hair braiders to complete 1,200 hours of training at a beauty school in order to do business legally.

Black lawmakers said the current law not only makes it harder for hair braiders to legally run a business but also unfairly targets Black hair stylists, many of whom are also African immigrants. State Assembly members Angela McKnight, Shanique Speight and Arthur Barclay sponsored the bill, which passed in the legislature.

Hair stylists said that many of them cannot afford to go to cosmetology school to learn a skill deep-rooted in African culture. They also said they would be forced to learn things centered on hair care for whites, who are not the majority of their clientele. There are other issues with the new rule.

“We’re concerned that 40- to 50-hour requirement is an additional burden for the braiders,” Justice Associate Director of Activism Brooke Fallon said. “Where is this training going to be offered? Will it be offered in languages other than English? A lot of the braiders speak French or Arabic. Also, how much will the training be? That can affect how accessible it is to these braiders. Many of these women have been doing this work since they were little girls, so now to have to sign up for classes and possibly travel across the state for them is definitely a concern.”

New Jersey is reportedly one of 13 states that have such laws for hair braiding.