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N.H. Hair Braiders Enjoy New Freedom from Licensing Rules

Peter Biello
Shaquwanda Allen and customer Mickaylia Richards of Manchester

Governor Chris Sununu recently signed a bill into law that would eliminate the requirement that hair braiders obtain a license to do their work. These licenses were often expensive to obtain and, some argued, unnecessary, in part because no potentially dangerous chemicals are involved.

This could open the door to employment for workers, many of whom are African American, who learned this skill at a young age from family members.

Hair stylist Shaquwanda Allen advocated for the bill. She braids hair out of a small shop in Manchester called Heavenly Touch Salon. It's a small shop, just a couple of chairs, broad mirrors, and mannequins wearing wigs in the windows facing the street. NHPR’s Peter Biello stopped by Heavenly Touch to speak with Allen about what this law means to her.                            

Tell me about the work you’re doing today. You’ve got this long strand of hair here, what will you be doing with it?

Today, we’re going to braid her hair up into a ponytail—a long, long, long ponytail. So this is the extensions I’m going to use.

And how long have you been doing this?

A very long time. I started when I was ten, and then, professionally, I’ve been here three years doing it from a shop instead of  my house.

Do you enjoy the job?

Actually, I love my job. It’s wonderful. It’s good to make someone else feel great  about themselves. Now, when she leaves here, she’s going to feel good. She’s going to go out and rock her ponytail and she’s going to feel happy. Then in two weeks she’s going to come back and do it again.

Up until recently, when House Bill 82 was made law, you were required to have a license. Did you think that rule was needed?

Not necessarily, because I’m not doing anything crazy that has never been done before. Again, braiding’s been around for years, our mothers have braided our hair outside our homes. And when you go to school you don’t learn how to do these things. They go over basic, big braids on straight hair, but they don’t show you how to do it on kinky hair and things like that.

So if you didn’t grow up doing it, you’re not really going to know what to do. You can teach yourself, but it’s a long process to teach yourself in a short period of time.

How did you feel when HB 82 became law, and didn’t require you to have a license?

I felt very happy, it’s less stressful. Now I know I can be somewhere professional and not worry about certain licenses and things like that, or someone coming in and saying, you can’t be here, which was the best thing to happen.

So now I feel very happy I don’t have to watch my back as much.

Do you think there will be a rush of people who know how to braid who will open a storefront now that they don’t need a license?

Definitely, definitely, because  there are a lot of braiders. And there are people better than me, so once they find out they can do this for a living, they’re going to do it.

Does that make you nervous, since you might have more competition?

Not really, because we all have a different style of braiding, and you build your relationship with your client, so they start coming to you and don’t look other places. So we’re never really going to step on each other’s toes.

Even now, there’s some braiders, if I can’t take [a client] I’ll say, she braids just as good as I do, you should try to go see her. So we can help each other out, but I don’t  think we’ll step on each other’s toes.

How do you see your career as a braider going now that you’re able to do it without a license legally?

I feel like it’s going to go very far. As of the time [HB 82] passed until now, I’ve been getting a lot of customers. In five years, I see big things.

Long term, I’ll hopefully have a bigger shop, with a lot of braiders and we just do braiding. Just out of one shop. We don’t have to do chemicals or anything, because I don’t like chemicals.

A bigger shop. I’m looking around right now, and you’ve got a couple chairs here, and couple over there. Are these hair washing stations?

Yep, hair washing and drying, then the regular stations. It’s just two of us for now, so now that this [bill] is passed, we are looking for other people, which would be nice, to have some more braiders in here.

We’re looking to hire other people that also do natural hair care, because again I’m the only one right now. It gets overwhelming, so to get someone to help me out would be better.

If the law weren’t passed, how much would it have cost you to become licensed?

Over $1,500, probably. That’s including tuition and buying supplies just to go to school. [That would have been] very expensive, just because I have a household to keep and not a lot of time to sit in a classroom, so that takes away from my pocket.

Now that you don’t need a license, will you be more free to advertise your services around town, and are you doing that?

Yes, we have been. Facebook is a good place to reach out to people, and just word of mouth has been good too. I’m like yo, tell a friend to tell a friend. They have been telling a friend to tell a friend, so now I’m seeing more and more people starting to come.

Thanks for letting me come and interview you while you’re working.

Thanks for coming and asking your questions. It’s good you’re doing this, so other people can know exactly what hair braiding is about and why we fought  for bill 82. It’s a need for it, and a lot of people again can’t afford to go to school, and if you go to school, they don’t teach you this type of hair styling.

Maybe one day we can have some more classes in school. We can fight for that next. That would be very helpful to everybody. 

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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