The Buzz

Say What?: It Takes 300 Hours to Become a Shampooer in Tennessee

Tammy Nutall-Pritchard had been braiding hair with her older sister, Debra Nutall, since she was 18 years old.

Nutall taught Nutall-Pritchard the craft when she was 15, and the sisters would stand side-by-side behind the chairs of scores of clients at Nutall’s Memphis, Tenn., salon who came in to get their hair braided while chatting and gossiping with customers.

Nutall-Pritchard did well—she charged around $300 per head and sometimes made more than $1,000 each week.

“It gave me joy,” Nutall-Pritchard, 47, told The Daily Signal of working with her sister. “She told me, ‘You learn a skill, it will bring an income for you if you do it the right way.’ She taught me to be the woman I am today, and she taught me that you can be your own boss.”

But Tennessee’s onerous licensing laws governing natural hair stylists like Nutall and Nutall-Pritchard eventually drove Nutall out of the state she and her family have called home their whole lives.

As a result, Nutall-Pritchard, who worked at the shop for more than six years, was out of a job.

Now, the 47-year-old works as a school resource officer to support her three sons.

In the meantime, Nutall-Pritchard wants to continue working in friends’ salons, shampooing hair and socializing, while making some extra money on the side.

But in Tennessee, Nutall-Pritchard needs a license to do that, too.

“Something so simple, they make it so hard,” she said of the state. “Something as simple as shampooing, they make it so hard for a woman like me to make money for a better life.”

So Nutall-Pritchard, with help from Nutall and Leanna Malone, Nutall’s granddaughter, teamed up with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank, to challenge the state’s shampooing licensing laws and is arguing those regulations violate her economic liberty.

“For a common, everyday job like shampooing, we’re not talking an engineer or a doctor or something like that,” Braden Boucek, the Beacon Center’s director of litigation, told The Daily Signal. “For a common, everyday calling like shampooing, you have a fundamental right, and the state can’t just arbitrarily burden it.”

“To earn a living is a right,” he continued. “Everybody deserves a good job, and that’s something we should all be able to agree on.”

An Ongoing Licensing War:

Nutall-Pritchard and Nutall have a long history of fighting licensing laws in Tennessee, but for them, the enduring battle scars come from regulations tied to natural hair styling.

Nutall learned braiding when she was a child and views it as an art form. At the time, there were no hair braiding salons and, as far as she knew, no easy way of opening one. So instead, Nutall decided to braid hair in between her 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift as a nurse’s assistant.

Nutall’s braiding was unique, and Memphis women began recognizing her styles in the supermarket or at the gas station. Nutall’s client base grew.

Nutall decided to purchase a space in an old bank building on Lamar Avenue in Memphis to compensate for her growing business. There, in 1995, she opened Dee-Nu-Tall Braid Academy.

Nutall continued to see success. After living on welfare and in public housing, the mother left the welfare rolls and bought a new house. The year she opened her salon, Nutall purchased her first brand new car: a 1995 Toyota Camry.

“I had to do something to come out of public housing, and it was honest and fair,” Nutall said of her business. “It bought me a new home and a new car and got me off of welfare and out of public housing, and therefore my children had an opportunity to see life in a different way.”

In 1996, the Tennessee General Assemblypassed a law requiring natural hair stylists to attain a cosmetologist’s license through the state’s Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners.

Natural hair braiders like Nutall had excelled in their craft for years, learning braiding from their mothers and grandmothers. But now, the state was telling them they had to log more than 1,500 hours of education through an eight-week course with costs topping $12,000, Nutall recalled, and all for a skill she pioneered in Tennessee.

The business owner lobbied state and federal lawmakers in both Nashville and Washington, D.C., urging them to roll back the regulation. Nutall tried to explain that a cosmetology license, which covers perming, relaxing, and dying, was unnecessary for natural hair stylists, particularly because their craft dissuades the use of chemicals used by cosmetologists.