As braiding's popularity grows, rules cause a snag
Some are opposed to state licensing requirements.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Hair braiding and natural hairstyling are experiencing growing popularity with blacks and nonblacks, but with its popularity has come some controversy.
According to Bestdooz.com, a Web site that deals with ethnic hair care, hair braiding, a system of interlocking segments of hair, is an ancient art practiced by the ancient Egyptians as long ago as 4000 B.C. The Web site says hair braiding, as it is seen today, originated in West Africa.
Local hairstylists say braiding always has been appealing to some people, but braiding and dreadlocks in recent years have grown considerably popular. Dreadlocks are a natural hairstyle where hair is twisted together and allowed to "lock" into long strands over time.
Aphynna James, owner of Hollywood Hairdressers on Belmont Avenue, has been in the field of cosmetology for more than 25 years and said she has witnessed the increase in braiding's popularity.
What's given it a boost
She said the lack of chemicals and ease of maintenance have fueled the trend.
"Most clients are going back to the natural look because it is more natural and easier to maintain the hair," she said. "Some of the more popular trends are microbraiding, cornrowing and dreadlocks. Braiding today is a beautiful thing. I see this as an art."
Cornrows are a traditional style of hair braiding originating from West Africa. To achieve the look, the hair is braided tightly to the scalp in a continuous, raised pattern. Cornrows can be produced using various techniques which result in a multitude of designs including straight, geometric, or curved styles, says the Web site braidsbybreslin.com.
Microbraiding is braiding hair in thin strands and can be used with hair extensions, the Web site adds.
James said corporate America once had a zero tolerance for dealing with individuals who wore any type of braids, but that has changed to allow much more acceptance of people who choose to wear braided hairstyles.
That acceptance, she said, has led to some outside of the black community to embrace the braided styles.
James said many whites and other ethnic groups have taken an interest in the braided styles. She said dreadlocks and hair twisting have become increasingly popular with white college students and musicians from various ethnic backgrounds.
"It's the look for today," she said.
But braiding, a staple in black homes for generations, is now being regulated by the government. Ohio requires those who braid hair to obtain a license.
Ohio began requiring licensure several years ago. The state requires hair braiders to complete a 450-hour course and pass an exam before they can braid hair. Pennsylvania enacted licensing requirements in 2006.
Taalib-Din Ugdah, founder and executive director of the American Hairbraiders and Natural Haircare Association, said requiring a lengthy class and licensing for hair braiders is unfair and completely unnecessary.
He said hair braiding requires no chemicals and is most often learned by young girls from older girls in their family or community.
"As popular as [braiding] has become, the state of Ohio lags way behind other states in recognizing the African tradition of natural hair braiding," he said. "The excuse they give [for the license requirement] deals with public health and safety. We contend that it does not take 400-plus hours of training to teach someone to wash their hands or clean a comb."
Ugdah said the licensing requirement does a disservice to the black community because it forces many hair braiders who cannot get to a training facility or cannot afford to attend the classes to continue braiding hair "underground."
He said the state also loses out on tax dollars that would be generated from the legitimate earnings of those still braiding hair.
Kevin Miller, director of the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology, said he understands the licensing issue can be a sensitive subject to many people, but he said the state has documented cases of complaints from individuals who have had bad experiences with unlicensed braiders. He said the focus is health and safety.
"It's never an issue until someone braids something too tightly and hair falls out or proper sanitary measures are not taken," he said. "If you are putting your hands on someone who is paying for a service, I would hope there would be some form of regulation."
Miller said state officials are more interested in educating braiders than throwing them in jail. He said there have been no charges brought against unlicensed braiders in the last two years.
"We don't want to discourage you from doing this, but we want you to do it the right way. We don't want to discourage anyone from making a living," he said.
For those who obtain a license and enjoy the art of braiding hair, James said, there are a growing number of clients looking for the best braiders.