The “Uber Stylist” Has Arrived



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Since time immemorial, stylists have been applying their skills at weddings, photo shoots, and other extra-salon venues. It’s a fact of life for our industry.

But that doesn’t explain the recent spike in the number of freelance workers, unmoored from a licensed establishment, based solely on the web, and performing beauty services in all sorts of environments — from homes and commercial sites to rehabilitation centers and hotels.

The “Uber Stylist” has arrived — but is this good for our industry?

Our’s is an economic sector that has been built upon licensure, in which state governments (and to a lesser extent federal and municipalities) provide regulatory oversight, from ensuring schools and apprenticeships adequately prepare students to be safe operators to making sure salons are safe environments for our clientele.

While there is a growing chorus calling for the deregulation of our entire industry (I challenge you to find a single State Legislature that hasn’t introduced such legislation in the past five years), everyone is currently playing by the education and licensing rules of the game — or, at least, they should be.

While some salons and individual stylists may flaunt these laws, our overall industry is predicated on generally applicable health and safety standards, which are enforced by state regulators. The honest operators conform to these protocols not only for fear of State Board inspections, but to honor generally accepted rules of the road.

Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue on our highways and city streets if there were no lighted intersections, no speed limits, no drivers license and vision exams, and no traffic cops?

Yet far too many employers, in their quest to rid themselves of costly labor laws, have moved to booth rental, some with questionable legal arrangements; while some stylists have eschewed the regulatory confines and expense of a salon setting for freelance work. Large corporations are poised to get into the act, tempting the number of stylist to work outside a salon on a scale heretofore unseen.

If left unchecked, these trends could be similar to removing traffic lights one intersection at a time. Eventually, traffic collisions would spike, people would get hurt, and everyone would fear and loathe driving. Similar results would likely follow in our industry, if our licensing and regulatory structure eroded away.

That’s not to imply that mobile services are inherently bad, no more so than the services of Uber and Lyft vis-a-vis transit passengers. In fact, the use of internet marketing and online appointments for services rendered at the client’s preferred venue is the free-market at work. There’s no stopping that, nor should bureaucrats or policymakers try.

But like unlighted intersections, without some minimal regulatory oversight, chaos could ensue.

And those regulations should be generally applicable to all making a living in our industry. Without meaningful regulatory oversight of mobile services, a non-level playing field would be established, where brick-and-mortar salons would be easier targets for inspections and regulatory fees than freelancers, and therefore be less competitive in the marketplace.

That is why a number of states have in recent years rushed to adopt laws to govern the rules of the freelance road.

A few years ago, there were only a couple of states considering such regulations; today, well over half are in the process of adopting regulations governing mobile and freelance services.

In acknowledgement of the near impossibility of regulatory oversight of services rendered outside a licensed establishment, most of these states include proof of minimal liability insurance — a sort of “after the fact” protection for harmed consumers. Some have decided to cap the number of services offered by any particular freelancer or limit the geographical reach of a freelance permit. Nearly all of these states require background checks on the individual stylist and some sort of notification to the mobile-served clientele of the stylist’s license and business permit. And most of the states looking to get ahead of this trend limit the kind of beauty services allowed, as well as placing an emphasis on single-use, disposable tools to the greatest extent possible.

Here in California, our State Board has taken what they consider the most effective provisions of the other states in developing what they call a “personal service permit. “So freelancers (or “PSP’s” as we now call them) will have to have minimum industry experience (two years) with no serious infractions; a background check (LiveScan); provide proof of liability insurance of $1,000,000; restrict use of chemicals in their mobile service; utilize disposable instruments to the extent possible; provide the client with various notifications; and obtain and keep on file a signed receipt with the client’s contact information.

The days of mobile services being limited to weddings are over. But we cannot embrace a Wild Wild West approach to freelance beauty, either.

For those State Legislatures and regulatory Boards deliberating on how best to govern services rendered outside a licensed establishment, it is my hope they will acknowledge the foundational importance of licensure and create a regulatory regime that equally applies to both brick-and-mortar services and freelance work.

Such an equitable approach will keep everyone on a level competitive field, while preserving licensure and regulatory oversight. We should embrace 21st Century technologies but not discard a century’s worth of professional standards.

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