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Natural Hair Guru Isis Brantley Is Suing Texas for the Right to Teach Hair-Braiding

Erykah Badu, a client of Brantley's, at the Natural Hair Parade.
Erykah Badu, a client of Brantley's, at the Natural Hair Parade.
Danny Hurley

In business-friendly Texas, people who want to teach the art of all-natural African hair-braiding have to jump through quite a few unnecessary loopholes, a new lawsuit claims.

Isis Brantley, a Dallas-based hairbraider whose clients include Erykah Badu, got to know Texas hairbraiding rules the hard way in 1997, when seven police officers entered her Oak Cliff hair braiding shop, the Institute of Ancestral Braiding, and arrested her. The offense was something that people in the black beauty industry across the United States have been accused of: braiding hair without a cosmetology license.

Stylists who create traditional African hair-braids have long argued that since they don't use any harsh chemicals or heat, their trade is safer than what is typically taught in cosmetology school and shouldn't fall under the same regulations.

In California, for example, African hairstylists were once required to spend $5,000 at a licensed cosmetology school, yet "none of these government-mandated classes actually taught students how to braid hair," writes the Institute for Justice, a Libertarian advocacy group representing Brantley. "In fact, they taught techniques that were especially damaging to African hair." The IJ helped strike down California's strict regulations against braiders in 1999.

In Texas, Brantley challenged the rules and in 2007 she successfully lobbied the state to create a separate Hair-braiding License. Now people who want to make a living off African hair braids need only a 35-hour course.

But while Brantley can braid free from police officers, she found that teaching was still off limits: Students who took her 35-hour course weren't able to become professional hair-braiders themselves. In June of this year, she received a letter from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation explaining why: Hair-braiding instructors are still regulated under the state's barber statute.

That means that in order to teach braiding, instructors basically have to learn how to become barbers -- that's hundreds of hours in barber school, four exams and lots of tuition money. The only way those regulations are waived is if Brantley agrees to be a "guest instructor" at a barber college.

"Texas has no problem with Isis teaching, it just has a problem with her working for herself," Brantley's attorney, Arif Panju from the Institute for Justice, said in a statement.

Brantley and the IJ are now filing suit against the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation so that she can teach African hair-braiding out of her own salon, a small brick building off of Beckley Avenue in Oak Cliff.

The complaint says that the TDLR is violating Brantley's constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

"Our policy is that we don't comment on ongoing litigation," Susan Stanford, the agency's public information officer, tells Unfair Park.

But the manager of the agency's Barber and Cosmetology Program did acknowledge that asking hair-braiders to learn how to become barbers is kind of annoying, telling the Texas Tribune: "It could be a hardship for someone that just wants to do the braiding."

Here is the lawsuit:

Brantley v. Kuntz File-Stamped Full Complaint.pdf


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