Isis Brantley is a hair’s breadth away from the end of her decades-long battle with the state to practice and teach African hair braiding in Texas, after a measure to deregulate the industry passed the Texas Senate on Wednesday and will head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
House Bill 2717 by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, which passed the House last month, would exempt hair braiders like Brantley from having to obtain a cosmetology license to operate a braiding business. Texas law requires extensive training and certain facilities for licensed barbers and cosmetologists — and braiders, even though they don’t use chemicals, tools, barber chairs or sinks.
Brantley, who has been braiding hair professionally in Dallas for more than 30 years, told a House committee last month that she doesn’t use scissors or combs — just her hands.
“Licensing should be reserved for occupations that have a real and substantial safety problem or interest,” said Arif Panju, Brantley’s attorney, at the committee meeting.
Since Brantley began braiding hair for a living in 1980, state regulations have made it difficult for her — and braiders across Texas — to practice the trade openly. Brantley started her business in her kitchen, away from the eyes of state regulators. After 12 years, she tried to open a salon.
“As soon as I opened up the shop, wow, the red tape was wrapped around my hands,” she said. “Seven cops came in, in front of my clients, and arrested me and took me to jail like a common criminal. The crime was braiding without a cosmetology license.”
Brantley told The Texas Tribune in April that restrictions on the hair braiding industry are a major roadblock to the “upward mobility of the impoverished community,” where the art of African hair braiding is most prevalent.
She said she’s helped poor Dallas residents open their own braiding businesses, feed their families and clothe their children.
“That’s the American dream that I want to be a part of,” Brantley said. “Cut the red tape. Help people learn this art and go to work.”
Brantley has won two court cases against the state, including a ruling in January by a U.S. district court in Austin that struck down unconstitutional training and equipment requirements to open a hair braiding school.
Goldman’s bill, carried in the Senate by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, passed the upper chamber on Wednesday without debate.