Beauty workers fight licensing requirement in court

Indian immigrant Jyotsna Biscuitwala has a job waiting for her at Miracle Eyebrows inside the Walmart Supercenters in Olathe and Shawnee. She is highly qualified and eager to work. Using nothing but a single strand of cotton thread, she can sculpt eyebrows quickly and safely without heat, chemicals or sharp objects.

Like many others from South Asia and the Middle East, Biscuitwala learned the skill at a young age from family and friends. She eventually opened her own threading salon in her native country, where she hired and trained hundreds of employees.

The owners of Miracle Eyebrows — who happen to be Biscuitwala’s son and daughter-in-law — trust her expertise because she also trained them. Unfortunately, putting Biscuitwala on the payroll would turn all three into criminals.

Kansas bans anyone without a full cosmetology or esthetician license from working as a threader, and Biscuitwala lacks the credential. To get the required license, she would need 1,000 hours of classroom instruction and about $10,000 for tuition.

Even if Biscuitwala could afford the hassle, Kansas beauty schools barely touch the topic of threading. She could learn nearly as much about the craft in flight school, culinary school or auto mechanic school.

Rather than accept the violation of her right to earn an honest living, Biscuitwala and the owners Miracle Eyebrows have partnered with the Kansas Justice Institute and fought back in court. Their lawsuit, filed Nov. 17 in Shawnee County District Court, seeks to end the licensing requirement for threaders.

The litigation follows a legislative push in 2019 and 2020, when a coalition of threaders, the nonprofit Institute for Justice and others asked lawmakers to fix the situation. The legislation stalled in committee each time, but the coalition plans to try again in 2021.

Either way — by court order or governor’s signature — eyebrow threaders should not need any type of license to serve customers who are happy to pay for the safe and relatively painless removal of unwanted hair.

Previous lawsuits from the Institute for Justice already have ended occupational licensing for threaders in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona. None of those states required more than 750 hours of irrelevant training, far below the Kansas standard. Yet the Texas Supreme Court, which intervened in 2015, determined that the useless licensing requirement in the Lone Star State was not only unreasonable and harsh, but also “oppressive.”

Arif Karowalia, a Pakistani immigrant who runs two chains called the Perfect Brow Bar and Perfect Salon & Spa, has seen the oppression firsthand in Wichita and Topeka. A state inspector visited one of his locations about 18 months ago and threatened unlicensed threaders with criminal prosecution.

Karowalia has no problems at his salons in Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas. But the regulatory environment makes expansion difficult in Kansas.

“I would create more job opportunities in Kansas,” he says. “But we are stuck.”

The state can fix the situation easily, but regulators have been unwilling to budge. That’s a shame for people like Biscuitwala, who has had her American dream put on hold.

Daryl James is a writer at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.