The strain of making clothes  — Lionesses of Africa

by Brigette Mashile 

A lot of people always say to us ‘just a simple dress, nothing difficult’ and we just stare at them. The words in my mind as I stare at a client saying this, ‘then maybe you should make it’; because if it is that simple…..I mean!? My favourite lecturer said to us, the simpler looking clothes are difficult to make versus the difficult looking ones. This statement will only make sense once you start making clothes, it sounds impossible but it is true.

I have been making clothes for the longest time; if I have to put it in years….maybe since 2004. Initially it was for fun, so maybe once a week; then it became more regular in 2008, and more defined in 2014. In all that time I have never made a simple garment. Every item needs me to eat, put a machine on, put thread through it, and.. and.. and.. nothing simple. But, the biggest cost is on my body, something people who make clothes don’t talk about. I talk a lot, so let’s see:

1. Hunger

Making clothes will make you hungry. From talking about an outfit, to fabric shopping, to cutting, to stitching and fittings; you will get HUNGRY. I always liken it to digging pit toilet labour, the intensity of these actions is shocking. I eat breakfast, go in to cut 1 dress and I feel as though I never ate. This is a problem trying to eat healthy/light also; because the hunger you experience needs pap. It needs something heavy, real food. Not a salad!

2. Your back

I don’t think I have a back. Look, my spinal bones are there but I’m not sure they are mentally present; they left me years ago. If I sit at a machine for 2 hours, the pain is unbearable. Whereas, in 2014 I could make 4 dresses in a day alone. The amount of sitting you do while making clothes could cripple you in your future; I realized this maybe a bit too late.  Also, the realization that I may never be able to work as much as I did before is heart-breaking; or that I may need medical attention to correct whatever injury I may have caused is even more sore. If you make clothes, please be aware that your back needs breaks.

3. EQ

Listen. People. Will test you. Daily.  The more orders you have, the better your EQ needs to be. Even then, I am not sure if you will be ok. Some situations need you to be as petty or inconsiderate as they are. Just so you make it out sane. People will tell you IT’S YOU, you are the problem. Aye, look if you have to speak to 300 people in one year and ensure they are all happy, you will make an error somewhere. The error will be because of you, or something someone said/did, or just a mere misunderstanding. The goal, is to remain passionate about your work and sane as a person. I cannot promise everyone will like you every year, but is is part of good EQ to know and accept that you are not everyone’s cup of tea.

4. Exhaustion

My exhaustion looks like a terrible flu. In these times of Covid, LOL! My body goes into fever when it is exhausted, in one day. I go from sneezing, to sore throat, cold, hot, body pains, all of it in 24 hours. This has happened a lot of times because our work is seasonal, we have a lot of work at one time and close to no work at other times. The times we have a lot of work, I get a flu at least once. This flu means I should sleep. Or rather REST! 

The other kind of exhaustion I have is becoming impatient with people. This means I have had enough and need at least a week away from all forms of humans, LOL. Our work has so many triggers, so imagine being unhappy in it.  This means I will be having an argument with someone every minute, over the most minuscule thing.

5. Sleep

When I was young, I thought I had to ‘not sleep’ to finish orders. A lie! Thank God for aging and experience. My advice to anyone out there, you need to sleep. It doesn’t have to be at night, or for 8 hours; but you need to sleep somewhere in the 24 hours available. For example, I sleep well between 3pm and 7pm. And the amount of relief this nap gives me is immeasurable. So, sleep. Your work will still be here when you wake. This might even be the only thing that helps with the hunger, your back, EQ and the exhaustion! Our bodies need us to sleep for them to function at full capacity. 

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