Several years ago, Ashish Patel, an entrepreneur in Houston, had plans to capitalize on the growing popularity of eyebrow threading, the ancient practice of removing body and facial hair by plucking it with a thin string. By 2008, a year into his business plan, Patel had opened one of 12 planned Perfect Browz salon locations.
But he said that a year later, when he learned that state inspectors were enforcing cosmetology regulations on threaders, he struggled to find licensed workers. He soon closed his shop and walked away from a dozen leases.
“I didn’t want to do business under the threat of anytime the inspector showing up and giving us a ticket,” he said.
Later in 2009, Patel joined five threaders and two threading business owners in a lawsuit claiming that the regulations have hurt their ability to do business in Texas. They have lost before two lower courts but will go before the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday.
Since the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation took over regulatory duties of the cosmetics industry from the Texas Cosmetology Commission in 2005, the agency has always considered threading "a method of removing superfluous hair" and therefore subject to cosmetology licensure, said Susan Stanford, an agency spokeswoman. The Legislature in 2011 defined threading as a "tweezing technique" under cosmetology law.
But threaders and threading business owners say the regulations force threaders to go through months of cosmetology training that often doesn't include training specific to their trade.
“That’s the constitutional failing in this case,” said Wesley Hottot, a lawyer the Institute for Justice, a national civil liberties law firm, and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “That the state isn’t bothering to instruct people how to thread, but it’s making threaders nevertheless jump through this regulatory hoop with no intended public benefit.”
That, Hottot said, is why many eyebrow threaders in the state have begun offering their services outside of established salons.
Stanford said that 25 hours of superfluous-hair removal are included in the cosmetology licensing curriculum and that students must pass an exam that contains questions on the topic. Obtaining a cosmetology license in Texas can cost more than $18,000 and take full-time students up to a year to complete.
"Subsets of hair removal, like threading and Brazilian waxing, may be presented in the schools by guest presenters, or, once licensed, the licensee may attend additional training to learn more about subsets," she said.
Two state-accredited cosmetology schools, the Insitute of Cosmetology in Houston and the Regency Beauty Institute, which has campuses across the state, told The Texas Tribune that they do not typically offer students training in eyebrow threading.
Salon licensing laws require employees to wash their hands, use new thread and keep work areas clean. Those laws will remain in place no matter the outcome of this case, and are not being contested.
The court's decision won’t impact Patel’s livelihood. He now works as a hotel business consultant, but he said he still wants to see threading businesses succeed in Texas.
“Otherwise, you’re going to have all these people stay underground not adding to the economy," Patel said. "People are not going to pay taxes. It’s just not good for business."
The plaintiffs in the case are not seeking damages.
“It’s about vindicating our clients’ constitutional rights,” Hottot said. “They just want to go back to work.”
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