Isis Brantley has been fighting against the state of Texas over her right to braid and service natural hair for over 20 years. She was arrested and dragged from her braiding salon and school, the Institute of Ancestral Braiding, in 1997 by seven undercover police officers. Her salon was full with customers. Her offense was braiding hair without a cosmetology license. But, this wasn’t Isis’ first time butting heads with the law- she had received a citation two years prior for the same ‘offense’.
The state of Texas required anyone that’s braiding hair in a salon to comply with the state’s barber college regulations, which included learning skills such as nail manicuring, barbering, and performing chemical hair services. None of which Isis planned to practice in her profession as a natural hair stylist. In fact, very few cosmetology programs even had a curriculum that including hair braiding, as most were self-taught or learned from other hair braiders.
The provisions for obtaining the license in Texas would require over 2,000 hours of classroom instruction, thousands of dollars in tuition and the ability to pass several exams. Due to Occupational Licensure, which is said to protect consumers and ensure quality practices, many hair braiders found themselves facing jail time or huge fines if they did not comply with the state’s requirements.
Texas is among 24 states that require those that braid natural hair to obtain more classroom training and instructional hours than Emergency Medical Practitioners. Hair braiders would be required to obtain up to 2,100 hours of training where emergency responders were only required to earn an average of 140 hours of training. Additionally, the cost of tuition, books, and other coursework materials for hair braiders could range anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000.
Video courtesy of the Institute for Justice
In 2007, Isis was granted permission by the state to operate as a professional hair braider. After all, she had decades of training under her belt and had been teaching others the art of natural hair braiding since the early 80s. Instead, the state created a separate 35-hour hair braiding certificate, which Isis received a waiver for the mandatory classroom training time.
Her victory was short-lived when the state advised that she did not meet the requirements to teach others to braid hair and would no longer be able to operate her braiding school. In some states, such as Mississippi and Kansas, hair braiders are only required to study a brochure on infection control and test themselves.
The state would only allow Isis to teach hair braiding if she expanded the Institute of Ancestral Braiding school to a minimum of 2,000 feet. As if that weren’t enough, she would also have to purchase and install ten reclining barber chairs and five sinks- none of which Isis had ever planned to use in her practice. What’s contradictory about the regulation is that the state makes it illegal for hair braiders to provide any service that requires using a sink.
In the state of Texas, several hair braiders endured the same penalties as Isis and were arrested and even jailed for their lack of proper licensure. And the notoriety of these cases gained national attention. Several states have even lessened their requirements for natural hair braiders by eliminating laws that require exhaustive and extensive training hours.
On October 1, 2013, the Institute for Justice, who successfully helped another African hair braider file suit against Utah, joined Isis in filing a federal lawsuit against the state of Texas. The lawsuit proved triumphant when U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled in favor of Isis’ case stating that attempts to force hair braiders to comply with state barber college regulations were “irrational” and “failed to pass constitutional muster”.
“This lawsuit means economic liberty for my community. This is our new Civil Rights movement,” says Isis to Forbes magazine.
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation was expected to give some push-back on the issue but announced instead that they also wanted to, “remove unnecessary regulatory burdens for Texas businesses and entrepreneurs, which include all statewide requirements for hair braiders.”
Now, Isis and many other women can make an honest living while practicing a craft they have known all their lives.