As black hair trends turned from relaxed and straightened back to more natural, the cosmetology industry, miffed at revenue lost to braiders and dread lock lockticians helped push through legislation in 2001 that made the ancient art of braids and dreadlocks requiring a 1500 hour cosmetology license.
Back when I used to party all night, I’d take the bus down from Uptown to Boystown and see the salons, women sitting in chairs with 1 or 2 braiders furiously braiding. And when I took the bus back up north at 3am, the same women would still be there, braiding away. Monica used to get braids and it always blew my mind how long it took.
The licensing requirement has forced many braiders ‘underground’ and out of the salons. Many now work out of their homes, divorcing the practice from the community that makes it a ‘local watering hole’ for black women.
This issue touches on race, class and even nationality as women from Senegal and other African companies come into the country bringing new styles and offering cheaper services. An African-American shop owner:
“I didn’t appreciate the signs that I saw Senegalese braiders hanging on their shops when they started coming over here–authentic African hair braiding,” he said. “As if what we’d been doing was fake?”
And a Senegalese owner:
“The American people, they don’t do the professional job that we do. We take eight hours, ten hours, to do it neat and tight. You go to the salon of the American people, the braid does not stay. One month and you can tell if an American person or an African did the work. The customers come back to our place and they complain, because the hair is frizzy or raggy,” she said.