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    Friday, July 19, 2024

    New Conn. law requires hair stylist training to include all hair types: 'It's about social justice'

    Since its opening a decade ago, the Vanity Studio school of cosmetology on Atlantic Street in downtown Stamford has been training students to work with all hair types. A new state law aims to ensure that hair stylists across Connecticut receive a similarly comprehensive education.

    Gov. Ned Lamont visited Vanity Studio on Monday to lead a bill-signing ceremony for legislation passed last month by the General Assembly that requires the training of barbers, hairdressers and cosmeticians to include working with textured hair, which refers to hair that is coiled, curly or wavy. With the new law, Connecticut becomes one of a few states to enact such a mandate. Connecticut also has a state law in the books against hair discrimination.

    Clients with textured hair, "want to feel welcome and feel as though there's a stylist in your salon that is knowledgeable and skilled in their hair texture," said ShaQueen Valentine, who runs the Vanity Studio cosmetology school with her father, Michael Valentine, and also operates the Vanity Studio hair salon at the same site.

    The new law, which takes effect on July 1, was passed with bipartisan support in the legislature. It follows similar legislation that was signed into law last November by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and comparable requirements issued by Louisiana's Board of Cosmetology in 2021.

    State Sen. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, a co-sponsor of the legislation and the co-chairwoman of the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, expressed confidence that the new law would address the challenges that people with textured hair often experience when they go to a salon.

    "For me, it's about social justice, it's about inclusivity, it's about making sure that there's equity, because I was one of those individuals where doors were closed on me," Miller said. "When someone walks into a salon, they should be able to have the service. And not — and I've been there — say, 'we don't do that type of hair.'"

    In explaining why he signed the bill, Lamont said he saw a connection with Juneteenth, the national holiday on June 19 that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.

    "What Juneteenth means to me is it's a battle that never ends. We keep going," Lamont said. "This is just one more small way that we're able to fight this battle. Treat everybody with the respect they need, starting with how they look and how their hair is treated."

    Supporters of the new law also said that it would support the CROWN Act, which Lamont signed into law in March 2021. The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination against hairstyles that are commonly associated with people of color, including Afros, Afro-puffs, Bantu knots, braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, twists, head-wraps and wigs. Similar versions of the CROWN Act — which is an acronym for "creating a respectful and open world for natural hair" — have been adopted in a number of other states.

    "It is axiomatic, therefore, that in order to comply with the CROWN Act and our state's anti-discrimination laws, barbers, hairdressers and cosmeticians must receive education and training in the provision of services to individuals with textured hair," the state Commission Human Rights and Opportunities said in written testimony submitted earlier this year in support of the bill that Lamont signed on Monday. "Educators are doing their students a disservice by not providing proper education. Failing to provide this education to service providers, leaving them uneducated in working with textured hair, opens them up to complaints of discrimination."

    Supporters of the new law said that it will not make training more expensive or require new training for existing hair stylists, but simply ensure that new stylists are receiving a complete education. ShaQueen Valentine noted, for instance, that while the state's cosmetology exam includes questions on various textures, passing that assessment does not equate to hands-on training.

    "You could know how to pass a multiple-choice exam, but it's another thing to actually have a person with curly hair sit in your chair," ShaQueen Valentine said.

    Michael Valentine, whose Love Cuts barber shop is co-located at 225 Atlantic St., with the Vanity salon and cosmetology school, offered a similar endorsement of the new law.

    "I'm excited about this because it's a challenge when you don't do a certain type of hair and then you have to get into it," he said. "We used to run from certain hair styles, but now today we're going to learn more and can help people learn more. It will be an excellent thing for people to have more income and create more barbers and stylists that can do any type of hair style."

    Corporate supporters of the new law include the consumer goods multinational Henkel, which has regional headquarters in Stamford and Rocky Hill and whose portfolio includes DevaCurl, a textured-hair brand. DevaCurl is a founding member of the Texture Education Collective, an alliance of hair industry leaders who are working to make cosmetology state board licensing requirements and curriculums inclusive of all hair types.

    "People are getting turned away and stylists aren't being empowered with the knowledge of how to do texture hair," said Malek Varano, DevaCurl's senior director of brand marketing, "So it's really about empowerment. We fight for that."

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