SEATTLE—Sally Sylla was taught the art of African hair braiding by her beloved sister. The native of Senegal considers it a “gift,” which is why she was so upset when a Department of Licensing inspector came to take it away.
“I couldn’t understand,” she said. “Why me?”
The inspector thought Sally was doing a different kind of styling and told her she needed a cosmetology license. State law does not require one for the kind of work Sally does. Still, she was told if she didn’t get a license, she would be shut down.
“I was like, what am I going to do? This is my only income. I have kids,” she said.
The DOL wanted Sally to go through some 1,600 hours of cosmetology training. That’s the same amount of training as an EMT, animal control officer, and security guard - combined.
The schooling to get the license would’ve cost upwards of $20,000 and would’ve provided skills Sally neither wants nor needs in her very specific style of hair braiding.
“I don’t use glues or chemicals that they teach in cosmetology,” she said. “It would be a huge waste of time and money.”
Sally contacted the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which helps entrepreneurs fight against unreasonable governmental regulations. The organization is now suing the state on her behalf. The suit may not be necessary, however. A DOL spokesperson told KING 5 Tuesday that this particular issue was a mistake and the case has been closed.
Sally’s lawyers, however, are pressing on with the suit. It’s a battle they have fought before, and won. In 2005 another Seattle-area African hair braider filed suit and the DOL ruled she was right in not needing a cosmetology license.
Some inspectors, apparently, didn’t get the memo. The DOL’s Christine Anthony told KING 5, “We will be looking at our internal notification process to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We will also be clarifying our policy on inspecting hair braiding salons with all of our investigators.”
If Sally hadn’t fought back, she believes she would’ve had to close her shop. Instead of being a successful businesswoman, she would’ve likely been experiencing the opposite end of that spectrum.
“I’d probably be on welfare.”