A state lawmaker is working to boost your options for natural hair care. Natural hair means you don't use perms, or other chemicals to straighten or change the structure of your hair.
State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis District 98, says Tennessee's law is vague about whether beauticians can open up hair care schools solely for natural hair.
Natural hair is a growing trend, mostly in the African American community. Right now, those who hope to study only natural hair, must complete a timely and pricey cosmetology program. Without natural hair care schools, Tennessee could be losing out on a booming industry and the money tied to it.
Brinetta Carlton found her passion in natural hair more than 20 years ago. Now, she owns a salon which focuses only on natural hair clients. "When I was a little girl, I had ugly hair, my mom she couldn't comb hair so I started fixing my own, and braiding it and adding little hair here and there. My self esteem went up 'cause my hair was pretty so I felt better," said Carlton.
Natural hair is common among black women, like Carlton's latest client, Delesslyn Kennebrew, who boldly chopped her perm, 12 years ago. She turned to Carlton for a "sisterlock" style, which are tiny uniform locks. Carlton learned the "sisterlock" technique, through a special course with a sisterlock tecnician. "Probably one of the most liberating experiences to just take ownership of my natural beauty," said Kennebrew. "When I moved to Memphis I was definitely concerned about maintaining my locks because I love them and I wanted someone who would care about my hair." I've had a lot of people come to me saying they have sisterlocks when I look into their hair, they're not sisterlocks, they're what we call 'step sisterlocks,'" said Carlton, with a laugh.
While cosmetology school taught Carlton the basics of working natural hair, she says instructors lacked the intricate knowledge for different techniques. "Now, I want to open up a natural hair school where I can teach others what I do and teach them to do natural hair, where they can obtain a natural hair license, without having to go to full cosmetology school," said Carlton. "I don't think there is a natural hair school, you would just have to offer that course in cosmetology school," said Petunia Pettigrew, Tenn. Academy of Cosmetology Instructor. Pettigrew says students must enroll in their full 1500 hour cosmetology program, in order to receive the 300 hour natural hair course. "So within 300 hours kinda limited as to what you can teach them in that short period of time," said Pettigrew.
"There's no law that I'm aware of that says we can open up a Natural Hair Care Schools at this point, but there's no law that I'm aware of that says you can't either," said State Rep. Antonio Parkinson. Parkinson says Tennessee code needs to specifically establish natural hair care school guidelines, including instructor requirements. Parkinson says he hopes to revamp the code's vague wording, and if necessary, possibly create new legislation. "We do know there is a huge demand for natural hair care and so if we can capture and make sure it's a revenue-generating opportunity for people out there, I think more people will come forward," said Parkinson.
Parkinson says natural hair care schools could groom Memphis for creative business entrepreneurs, skilled jobs, and big hair shows. For example, Bronner Brothers' Atlanta hair show brought thousands of beauty professionals this year to the city, which shaped up into a major economic impact. "I think people have spoken up before, but none have followed up, just thinkin' now is the time to follow up," said Carlton. While Carlton hopes to soon teach technicians to understand natural hair, its clients who often brush against the experiences layered underneath it. "There is a fear of being who they are naturally when it comes to their hair, because they're so used to chemicals altering their natural state and making it straight as if straight hair is the definition of beauty. When I went natural my dad said 'she's just going through a phase.' Well, it's been a 12 year phase," said Kennebrew.
Tennessee Academy of Cosmetology says most of their calls are inquiries for the full program, which includes teaching hair care, manicures, pedicures and hair removal. Parkinson says Nashville, Michigan, and Georgia each have natural hair care beauty schools. Parkinson also hopes to create more apprenticeship opportunities for cosmetology students, streamline the testing process and break some financial aid barriers.