THE FASHION WELDER - A Welder With Style And Grace
By: Krysta Kearney
Ever wonder who built some of your cities favorite buildings, or the apartment in which you live in...or the hospital in which you were born? What would we do without the teachings of our trades? We should honor the skilled laborers who build our communities from the ground up. Lashanna Lintama has been building her welding and fashion career for well over a decade now and through her labors of love, commitment and the courageous attitude she has, she is breaking through many layers of inequality and setting an example for the women of the future.
Being a multi-certified master welder doesn’t just happen overnight. Throughout her career she has obtained multiple certificates, in specialty areas such as mig, tig,and arc welding but mainly, she is a structural steel welder. Yes, what you picture is who she is, she is the one who is fourteen stories up, hanging iron...walking the beams, setting bolts and yes...welding those beautiful ½” welds to absolute perfection. Not only does she, herself have very solid integrity but the buildings that she welds do too, ensuring for it will hold all those memories and ceremonial moments to come. In the welding industry it is highly unusual to see a woman in the field, and even more unusual to see a black woman. So where does this passion come from? Why does she continue to be in the industry with all of the tribulations she faces?
Very early on, she learned what hard work is all about. Lintamo was born into foster care until the age of three until her grandparents took her and raised her full time. Eventually when Lintamo was eight years old, they were able to officially adopt. Her grandparents are country folk, very respectful and have a strong sense of independence, as they have never lived in a house her grandfather didn’t build. They pridefully made sure they could always self sustain by growing their own vegetables and doing their own repairs. As a young girl, she was always outside, playing with anything she could find, and working on little projects. She would help both her grandfather and grandmother, always learning a variety of skills.
“Growing up in the country; we work with our hands. We know how to WORK. We cut our own firewood and grew our own food, everything on the property...grandpa built. Our family motto is, “If you don’t have it; make it. If you break it; fix it and don't borrow money!”
Arbuckle, California is a small rural area just under an hour outside of Sacramento. Lintamo was the only black person in her school from preschool until high school graduation day. She was always picked on, bullied, called names and would even get framed and recalls a number occasions where she was treated poorly based on her skin color. She faced everything, from a teacher trying to give her medication for no reason in the fourth grade, then the school system trying to put her on Ritalin. Her grandmother put a stop to that! While being a honorable student and star athlete she was never rewarded for her efforts.
“I was always that little black dot. Faced a lot of criticism, racism, being looked over. Going through those treacherous times, really allowed me to take on a lot of the vulgar stuff that we as women go through in the field...having thick skin.”
However, in the eighth grade a light shined on her life. Her best friend, Katie Kluge (who is still her best friend to this day) transferred to the school. She describes her as the, ‘other portion to my soul.’ Lintamo said she doesn’t have a bad nor racist bone in her body and she credits her as being someone who has always given her strength.
“Katie was always there to remind me of my importance and my value, little did she know she really helped mold me into my person. She’s a white girl and when we were together there was really no color.”
Lintamo was a tri-athlete and was at the top of her game in everything, always breaking records and winning medals. She continued to do this in college as well. Unsure of what she wanted to do in her future, her uncle and grandfather sat her down one day and discussed how they thought she should pick up a trade. They both have been through quite a bit themselves in life and have been a part of the economic cycles through the years. They felt for her to stay secure and stable that a trade would be something that she could always fall back on.
There is a long line of trades in her family so for her to be a welder was somewhat her destiny, her calling...as it is in her blood. Her great grandfather was the first of her family to come to America. He came from southern England and was a master blacksmith in the slave trade. She says, “He was so well known, the man was making MONEY and as a black man too!” On her grandmother's side, her father was a pipefitter in WW2 and her mother was a welder. Yes, a welder! She was a true Rosie the Riveter. For Lintamo, it just made sense to go to trade school, as all the pieces fell together. Not only did she know she was capable, she knew she could do anything she put her mind to. It also seemed like something that she needed to do, to follow in her family's steps. Her grandfather always said, ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
So, she started a pre apprenticeship trade school in Oakland, CA known as Cypress Mandela. This is a very reputable program. Lintamo says it was literally like boot camp. They were equipped with everything they needed for them to set off and make their first impressions on the trade. Her first welding class was at Local 185 Laborers Union and boy, was she nervous. When it came to be her turn, she passed the test and to say the least she was enamored with joy. This first certificate really opened the doors for her. It was here that she met her mentor, Emmanuel Ezenwa. Even to this day he checks in on her and through the years she has taken various welding classes under his teachings and also worked with him on job sites. It was really amazing for her to meet him and from the beginning he gave her courage. He is a black man and you just don’t see that in the industry. Out in the field, in the past 13 years, she has never once worked with a black female and has only seen two black men on the job.
From there she went on to UA Local 342 Plumbers & Pipefitters which is a pipefitters union in Concord, CA. Out of a very large number of people she was one of the only few who passed the test. It was her introduction to welding and tested her mathematical skills and problem solving. It’s here that she got the opportunity to work under the wings of some of the best welders out in the field. She learned a lot. Originally she was part of the union as a plumber but fortunately was exposed to all the trades. Eventually she started welding for the union which led to her getting her own freelance work as well.
"I’ve faced things like having deuces hung in my scissor lift, having my lines cut, having my wire speed turned up or down while I'm in the middle of a root pass (which is everything to the structure). I’ve had people set me up, lie on me, all types of things. There have been many times where I tuck in a corner and just cry because you're letting it out but you have to gather yourself and let your strength out. That's when our superpowers come in and I say, ‘I will not be defeated.”
She has experienced many adversities in the industry and has been bullied, mistreated and has felt alone in so many situations given the lack of support from her colleagues. There has been many jobs where she hasn’t been hired based on her gender and color and has found herself oftentimes working triple the amount of her fellow colleagues, not getting paid the same, not being recognized, and time and time again just getting shamed, talking to her like she is, ‘Lower than a dog.’ One can only take so much of this, but she knew her worth and has continued to push through the years. This type of treatment is ultimately what led her to focus more on freelancing, as she would get paid what she should and be recognized for her craft, skills and abilities.
Just as an example of the type of treatment she has endured, Lintamo said one time a foreman said to her, “I’ve never hung a colored girl before.” The audacity of this man, the hurt, the negativity...is just appalling, not ok. Literally, she has been called everything. Every time she has tried to file a complaint or tell someone, her predecessors say, “Well, this is the field.” It’s how it always ends. Nothing is ever done. She says all the hatred she experiences, she says she uses it just to fuel her tank.
“Thank you for filling my cup, for filling my tank because you’re gonna make me go that much harder.”
Despite all this negativity and shame, she still thinks welding is is the best trade, that it's wonderful and can’t imagine her life without it. She encourages women to weld all the time. It’s been a hard burden for her to bear but with the support of others she has found strength. She didn’t even know there were other black female welders out there until recently. Social media has played a big role in this and to say the least it has been extremely impactful for her to see other women doing similar things. The encouragement from the community in itself keeps her pushing.
“Not only am I a female but that’s what I'm here for, I need to show women it's not a man’s world, it's our world. We are the mothers. We are the ones, we are the virtuous women, you know we can do anything and everything. NO, we may not have the strength, NO we may not have the big chest but there’s more than one way to skin a cat, baby, and we know how to get it done.”
Most work for her these days is word of mouth. She freelances everything, no job is too big or too small. Mainly, she gets a lot of small residential jobs and helps at various shops around the community. She also solicits her work. For example, if she is out and about and sees that an entrance gate needs work at a hotel, she heads on in and talks to them about fixing it. Networking is her most important tool. If she sees a work truck on the road, she takes down their number, snaps a picture and contacts them. Many times, she has just shown up at a job site and sits off to the side, watching, observing the project as a whole. She will continue to go back to see the development of the job. Once she knows it’s approaching the time where they need welders, she waltzes in and finds the contractor. It’s admirable and takes a lot of guts to do something like this. She says it hasn’t failed her yet.
“I will just go straight to them, walk into the office and present myself. You walk in work ready, with your resume, hard hat on, your tools strapped to you, and say, ‘Hey I see you got some work going on and I'm here to help’.”
You may ask why we said Fashion Welder at the top of this article?! Because if she couldn't be badass enough with her welding, Lintamo also owns an apparel company with a second one launching soon. For her, fashion has always been a big part of her life, as her grandparents always dressed with prestige and only ever left the house dressed to impress. Her love of vintage came from an early age, as she was always in her grandmother’s closet, trying on clothes and remembers being surrounded by their beauty, the colors and the fabric. At Leyu designs you can find both new and vintage fashion trends. It’s name originates from her nickname that her husband gave her. Leyu, in Ethiopian means, different, unique, none the same. From the first moment this really hit her and she resonated with it. The message behind it is so powerful, as there is only one of you, never will be another, and there never has been!
“Leyu was born because I wanted to give women a different outlook on life.”
Her husband is Ethiopian and the women of Ethiopia are very elegant and beautiful but also very hard workers. Lintamo says that Ethiopian women are doing what we would call here, a man's job. Leyu is an expression, for women to be mighty and graceful and at the same time. Women wear many different hats. Through her clothing, she wants to transpire and express all the beauty that women have to offer.
Leyu is a place where you can be unapologetically fashionable, a walking canvas expressing your freedom with boldness. Leyu is a place where you never stop believing in your own Transformation. - Leyu website
Through both of these ventures, welding and fashion she has recently come up with a way to mend the two, hence the Fashion Welder, which is current project, her new company set to launch in the summer of 2021.
“It really gives the black and the white, the ying and the yang to my worlds. Literally welding these worlds together.”
Fashion Welder as a brand, is a statement. Saying that women CAN and ARE hardworking, that it doesn’t have to be a man’s world and women don’t have to conform to it. The clothing speaks both natures, of being a tradeswoman and a lady. Lintamo feels you shouldn't have to act like a man, talk like one or conform to certain mannerisms or take on specific demeanors to have to be a tradeswoman. She is challenging stereotypes and breaking through social boundaries. The Fashion welder is a work wear clothing line that is specifically made for women. Not until recently could a woman find any welding gear that is made specifically for their body types and even still it is very far and few. On countless occasions Lintamo has found herself going to thrift stores to find mens work clothing to weld in and having to make alterations herself. Quite honestly, it's a hazard. Even safety harnesses are fit for the male figure, not womens. She is bringing functional fashion into the work industry with Fashion Welder. It is unexpected trendy work wear that is sending a message.
“You shouldn’t have to act like a man...or talk like one. You shouldn’t have to conform yourself to a certain demeanor. I can be all woman and be just as bad, and badder!”
Currently she is working on work pants, gloves, a welding jacket and a welding cap. It’s important for her to solve this massive issue for women. For Leyu, her dream is to bring workwear to the runway. It will be a form of fashion that is unexpected. These two companies hold weight on their own yet speak for each other.
“We need it, we need this women empowerment, we need each other, we need to see that we are femininely fit for the job.”
This is her activism. For her, it is important to show that she is unapologetically a black woman and that she is strong and beautiful. It is her doing her part; her imprint. Helping the future females of the trade. At one point in talking with her she paused and said it’s very hard for her to talk about all this sometimes. It’s hard to remain positive. She remarked, it’s just that bad seed is still in people. That you have to think, it was just over 50 years ago that black people couldn’t even use the same bathroom, so that mentality from their fathers are still there, and their sons are working there, it just paints a picture.
“The information from welding and the trades can be valuable to everyone. Not just this one tier...or binocular of people, but people of all types of color and women. Not only black women, but all women. I do want to emphasize on black women though, because (look) where are we?! It’s in the structure of education, that’s how it goes.”
Lintamo has many plans for the future. As someone who is always working on five things at once, she is one very determined goal setter. She and her husband have many ideas in the works but one big one is her desire to build a trade school in Ethiopia. She already lived there for several years and was sponsored through companies like Home Depot and Wendy’s for welding. She had an opportunity to work with a school and develop a trades program, teaching kids. Welding and trades programs don’t really exist in Ethiopia’s education. The building of a trade school could bring many opportunities to the area and help enrich the culture and build the economy. In Ethiopia women aren’t known to be masters at any type of trade, just skilled laborers. She hopes by building a school and developing programs that both male and females will be able to go into the trades having a well rounded approach and good grasp prior to being in the field.
When she lived in Ethiopia she continued on with her western ways, exhibiting behaviors that women just don’t do there. Being a welder, playing basketball…women took to this and were inspired. It's what really set her apart in Ethiopia. She wasn’t afraid of societal male dominance and looked past the social norms. Eventually, she and her husband want to be able to employ their families and help build equity in the small towns of Ethiopia. She wants to help people break free from their own systemic poverty through the teaching of trades.
Moxxi asked Lintamo, what type of advice she may have for women, women who are struggling in any place in life.