Amber Crews: Wisconsin regulators tell braiders yes, no and maybe | Column


Shelly Smith braids hair for Bridget Dunmore at Braid Heaven in Kansas City, Kansas. 

Some people grow up braiding hair. Children practice on each other and themselves, often receiving guidance from more experienced hands.

“For so many of us, especially in the African American community, braiding hair is a technique that is passed down generation to generation,” said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee.

My experience was different. I learned the skill later in life as the white mother of two biracial daughters, who are now 12 and 8. As I improved my techniques and shared photos on social media, potential clients began approaching me about freelance work.

An opportunity for a side gig and maybe a full-time career emerged. I was working as a receptionist at the time, but the ability to stay home with my young family while working as a braider appealed to me. As I explored my options, my first step was to find out if I would need an occupational license.

I contacted the Academy of Beauty Professionals, a local beauty school in Madison, and staff members told me in 2017 that I would need a full cosmetology license before I could work as a braider in Wisconsin. That was a dealbreaker for two reasons.

First, most beauty schools do not even teach braiding. And when they do, the training is superficial and not helpful. Secondly, beauty schools are expensive and would not fit into my budget or schedule as a working mother with financial obligations.

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