For Danielle Mitchell, 37, one particular haircut in her life stands out as “traumatic,” and plenty have been just plain bad. The worst of them occurred when she was 15 years old.
“I don’t know what they did. It came out as this frizzy 'fro and took years to grow out. People kept asking me, ‘What did you do to your hair?' ” Mitchell, of Bellport, recalls.
In many other instances, Mitchell’s natural hair seemed puzzling to hairstylists who had no education when it came to working with it. Addressing her tresses, “They would say, ‘I don’t know what to do with this,’ ” says Mitchell, who works as a lifeguard and a swim instructor. The only way they could deal with it was with a flat iron.”
But for her, that was a no-go. “I have natural hair. That’s what I was born with and I live with curly.”
Mitchell is just one of many whose natural hair may have suffered under the scissors of the untrained. While the state’s cosmetologist certification requires a 1,000-hour education course and experience requirements be met, training historically did not include cutting, treating and caring for textured hair, including coils, curls, spirals, ringlets and more — until now.
A new bill, S6528A, introduced by New York State Sen. Jamaal T. Bailey, and signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul in November, aims to fix this substantial gap in cosmetology school education. The goal of the law is to arm all graduates with the knowledge and skill to work across every hair type and texture, “including but not limited to various curl or wave patterns, hair strand thickness, and volumes,” the bill states. It will go into full effect in about six months, allowing cosmetology schools some running room in adapting their courses to comply.
Curl expert Allison Bridges, owner of the Curl Evolution salon in Babylon, says the law “is definitely going to shift the industry. It’s something I’ve been pushing for. There’s been a deficit in education.” Bridges has started a petition for the mandate to be enforced nationwide and has been tapped by the Eastern Suffolk BOCES program to help lead them in curl care training.
A SHIFT TO FIX THE 'DEFICIT'
According to Bridges, “Sixty-five percent of all people have some curl in their hair and to date the testing is so outdated that it doesn’t really serve the clientele we’re working on now."
It’s such a relief to know that I’m going to go into a salon and not have someone ask, ‘How do I deal with your curly hair?'
- Danielle Mitchell, 37, of Bellport
For salons catering to predominantly Black clientele, the dearth of education in the natural hair category is old news. It was only in 2019 that the CROWN Act (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) was signed into law in California. It prohibits race-based hair discrimination involving education and employment “because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or Bantu knots.” It has since been adapted in other states, including New York, serving as a precursor to Bill S6528A.
“The bill is long overdue and I think it’s absolutely necessary,” says Shanel Harris, the owner of Jakari J Salon in Oceanside. Until now, it’s been up to Harris to impart the handling of natural hair to her own staff. “I end up teaching them advanced classes after they graduate from school and sometimes I bring in other outside stylists.”
Harris, who graduated from the Long Island Beauty School in Hempstead says, “Our teachers were Black and had hair like us. It’s demographically taught but not generally and it’s either such a small portion of the courses or they don’t have it at all.”
She’s in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to how the law will change the status quo. “I’m wondering what the commitment to the education will be.”
Stylist Diondra Horsey, 33, of Sir Shave Barber Parlor, says she commuted to Harlem to one of the few schools specializing in natural hair at the time. "It's beautiful that other people learn about other hair textures, so it won't be so separate," she says. "What is the point of keeping them separate? Now, it's like we go here to school and they go there."
CHANGES HIT CLASSROOMS
At the Long Island Beauty School in Hauppauge, dozens of new natural hair mannequins fill the classroom and there is excitement about the new coursework. But it didn’t take the law to spur enhanced programs there, according to lead educator Christine Cotto. “We rewrote the curriculum in July ahead of the trend and felt good that we were already on track to make the changes.”
Why did it happen? “We felt it was necessary because we learned during the school’s student exit interviews that some of them felt they weren’t prepared when it came to textured hair. While we always touched base on it, we realized natural hairstyling was its own category.”
The Long Island Nail Skin and Hair Institute in Bethpage has offered a separate 300-hour “Natural Hair Styling” program since 2018.
“It’s very specific to specific to textured hair,” explains Dana Persico, the school’s director and the president of the New York State Beauty School Association (NYSBSA). “The law is going to open everybody’s professional eyes and is very relevant and trend forward," she said. "It will help professionals throughout New York State work on a larger base of clientele that have coarse, coily, curly or wavy hair.” According to Persico, the state has recently proposed renaming all natural hair programs “Natural Hair Care and Braiding.”
For Mitchell, who has had her fair share of lousy cuts by uneducated stylists, the new law offers reassurance. ““Every time I go someplace, I pray, ‘Please let this work out’ and that my hair won’t be horrible coming home" she said. "It’s such a relief to know that I’m going to go into a salon and not have someone ask, ‘How do I deal with your curly hair?'”
With Natalia de Cuba Romero