African Hair Braiding No Longer a Crime in Iowa Thanks to Two Black Women Who Fought Back

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Institute for Justice
Institute for Justice

Braiders in Iowa no longer need to get a cosmetology license to plait customers’ hair. Thanks to two Black women who brought a lawsuit against the state with a non-profit public interest law firm, stylists who practice unlicensed braiding will not face jail time. Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit filed and won a civil suit against the midwestern state with the Institute for Justice.

A law enacted July 1 made braiders exempt from Iowa’s cosmetology licensing laws. Before then, anyone who braided hair without taking 2,100 hours of courses at a cosmetics school – which can cost at least $20,000 – to obtain a license could be subjected to a misdemeanor charge. The citation was punishable by up to one year in prison. Now, braiders will simply need to register with the state.

“I am grateful I can now pursue my passion and support my family without feeling like a criminal,” Bell said in a statement. “This new law opens the door for so many braiders to start and grow their own businesses.”

IJ reported the single mom previously braided hair in Georgia and Minnesota before moving to Des Moines, Iowa. She took up the trade to support her family without taking more cosmetology classes since previous training gave her skills unrelated to braiding. Bell quit school and was left without a license. Due to an arrangement with the state cosmetology board agreeing only to use a comb in her work, her salon owner allowed her to braid there.

Agit fled present-day South Sudan with her family to escape civil war. After saving her money, she moved from Kansas City, Missouri to Des Moines with the hope of opening her own salon. Upon trying to get a business license from the city, she learned it was illegal to braid without a cosmetology license. Afraid that hiring other stylists would attract attention, she closed the shop and worked out of her home.

Now, the two braiders can practice their craft without fear of being punished.

“This is a major victory for African-style hair braiders in Iowa,” attorney Meagan Forbes said in a release. “The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as hair braiding. These reforms have now put the American dream within reach for braiders across the state.”

Iowa isn’t the only state challenging the long tradition of Black hair braiders. In March, Kentucky approved regulations on stylists who practice braiding, requiring them to take 1,800 hours of courses and a six-month internship to get a license, Atlanta Black Star reported.

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