PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Jocelyn Decouto twists and weaves strands of hair into braids every day at her job as Pawtucket salon owner.
Thursday, she took her talents to the State House to show off her braiding skills on her 7-year-old daughter Shailynn, as she pushes for legislation to deregulate natural hair braiding.
“I want to create a new economic avenue for the state,” Decouto said. “As well as allow braiders that are like myself the ability to have finance freedom, legally.”
Hairdressers and barbers in Rhode Island currently have to take 1,200 hours of training and obtain a license to operate. Natural hair braiders like Decouto argue that because they are not cutting, dying or chemically relaxing hair, they shouldn’t be subject to the requirements and the costs that come with those specialties.
She said braiding natural hair is cultural, with relatives passing it down by generation.
“I learned at the age of 11 and I’ve been doing it since,” Decouto said. “I’ve worked in barber shops since the age of 13.”
“I did cosmetology, I went I did 1200 hours.” Sarah Reves, another hair braider who operates a salon in Providence, said. “But when I went, they did not teach me how to braid.”
Legislation to exclude natural hair braiders from the licensing requirements is pending in both the House and Senate, introduced in the respective chambers by Rep. Anastasia Williams and Sen. Dawn Euer. The bills have both had hearings so far this year and were held for further study.
The legislation did pass the House last year, but died in the Senate. Supporters are hoping to get it through both chambers this year.
Cosmetology schools have come out against the bill, expressing concern that it could be a slippery slope to deregulating other beauticians who should be properly trained.
“It’s still a form of dressing the hair,” said Jackie Pace, the director of Empire Beauty School in Warwick. “You’re still touching another person’s scalp and you’re not trained…without formal training they don’t know the difference between scabies or any other disease that is transferable to another person.”
Pace said it can cost up to $16,000 in tuition for the 1200 hours of training, although financial aid and grants are available. She said students can also take the training at vocational high schools for free.