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Samantha ThomasIt just started to break me down

Originally from Flin Flon, Manitoba, Samantha Thomas spent two years working as a computer pattern designer in a Winnipeg garment factory. Two years later she's still trying to regain her health. These days Samantha makes most of her own raiment (clothing) by hand and needle.

Samantha says:

I was against a wall, there was florescent lighting, the windows were usually covered because of the glare on the [computer] screens, the air conditioner units were blowing cold air. Most of our work was done on the mouse and the mouse wasn't in a place that you could hold your hand comfortably. That's where it all started for me.

When I hit that one year mark I started to notice the pain in my back and in my shoulder. You can sit for so long, your body knows how long you can sit for, and after that you have to get up.

If you break your leg at a job it's obvious, but it was so gradual what happened to me. I started to see different doctors: chiropractors, an acupuncturist, massage therapist, a physical therapist, and a doctor. I was going to the chiropractor three times a week. I would do yoga 45 minutes to an hour and a half every night on top of all the therapies.

It just started to break me down. I could hardly sit up to read my son a story. It started to affect him for sure. He was rubbing my back a lot. Things that normally wouldn't set me off would. I couldn't handle things anymore. It wasn't normal.

I used to go to sleep at night and I would be up I guess the maximum was about eight times a night because the pain in my back was so bad. I wasn't remembering things. I didn't want to be around people, just being out socially wasn't comfortable anymore. Even now my back went out this morning. I often wonder if it's ever going to go away.

This isn't just happening in third world countries it's happening in Canada, in your own province, in your own city. Nobody knows it's happening, nobody goes in there, nobody sees, only the people who work there.

I didn't know a lot about my rights but I'd usually voice if there was something not right going on. A lot of times I was the only one who would speak up and actually say something. It was mostly women sewing. Their conditions were horrible. I know what it's like to sew, it's not an easy job. The majority were not from Canada and they used to say to me that it was easier for me to say something because I was English and I was from Canada.

For my health to be on the line, my well-being, just for fashion. People don't realize it when they go into stores. Most people, even me, I buy a pair of pants and you don't even picture the person that sewed it. Your mind doesn't even go that way. When I actually make something that's handmade for somebody, and give it to them they go 'Gee, this is handmade' but things you buy in the store it doesn't click in your brain that this is handmade.

I usually only go to the store if I absolutely need something because you're just feeding that whole industry. I don't need 6 pairs of pants, 10 skirts. I've always been very content with very few clothes, just things that work. In 1989 I remember when I graduated from school there wasn't nearly the selection. Going to a thrift shops or to a second-hand shop was actually kind of fun there weren't these huge corporate thrift shops. You can see there's a problem when your thrift shops are getting bigger than your stores. There's far more abundance in clothing everywhere.

If we could just sew and make what we needed and actually bought just what we needed we wouldn't need so much.

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