Hair braiding is a profession largely by and for Black women. It represents an integral part of many African cultures and is a part of cultural heritage for African women. For many African immigrant women, hair braiding is also the most marketable skill and accessible employment to support their families here and back home. However, working as a hair braider is not as simple as one might think. African immigrant hair braiders are a marginalized workforce facing numerous challenges, including regulatory and structural barriers to practicing their craft. Most have not been able to obtain the Natural Hair Styling license, which is required by the State to do their work. Our report sheds light on these issues and lays out recommendations to make the license more accessible.
The report is the culmination of a Participatory Action Research project that centered on the leadership of African hair braiders. ACT conducted nearly 350 surveys, three focus groups, and interviews with braiders. Our research found that surveyed hair braiders want licenses and feel the pressure and fear of being unlicensed: they are concerned about the fact that they are unlicensed, which leaves them vulnerable to theft of services and penalties from authorities for license violations. Our data also show that the State licensing process imposes significant barriers on braiders who want to obtain a Natural Hair Styling license. Most braiders lack information about the requirements to apply for the license. Barriers like language access, literacy, and the time and cost of training programs put the license out of reach for most braiders.
The report details policy recommendations to improve African hair braiders' access to licensure, including improving access to information about the license, revising the course and examination requirements, streamlining the process by which braiders can document prior experience, and more.