The women of Nisa with founder Elisha Watson (second from right). Image supplied.
If you had the opportunity to change another woman’s life for the better why wouldn’t you? Newly launched Wellington underwear label Nisa are doing just that by employing refugee women to make their ethical undergarments in a sustainable way while helping these women settle into their new community. Nisa is Arabic for woman and their products are made from organic cotton that is ethically sourced.
We were recently introduced to Nisa via their PledgeMe page that was set up by founder Elisha Watson to raise money for her wonderful new label. We love fashion that has a heart and a conscience so we chatted to Elisha to find out more about her new initiative, what inspired her to create Nisa and how we can help support the fledging label.
Where did the idea come from for Nisa and how did you go about creating it?
I was a Red Cross refugee resettlement volunteer and was helping refugee families set up their new lives in NZ. Through that experience I met many people from refugee backgrounds, and a common theme was “help us find work”. Many of the women have sewing skills and we bonded over that shared passion, which got me thinking about setting up a social enterprise to utilise those skills. Of course we needed something to sew. I wanted to design a product that was accessible to every woman and would not be hundreds of dollars, and underwear ticked both boxes. I quit my job as a lawyer, and with a bit of luck found a lovely studio in the middle of Wellington to set up production. I employed three women from refugee backgrounds as my first employees, and then we got to the task of actually sewing and marketing the undies.
Fowziya sewing Nisa underwear in their Wellington studio.
What are the challenges of being a social enterprise as well as a business?
Our social mission of employing women from refugee backgrounds is at the heart of what we do, and our first employees are an absolute delight to work with. However, it does mean that production is much more of a challenge than simply placing an order with a large Chinese company. We make in-house which means we have to train our employees and have a constant eye on quality. Luckily our employees are more than up to the task.
What does it mean to you to work with refugee women and how have you found the experience so far?
It’s a lot of fun – we laugh together all the time and we get around language barriers through a very entertaining use of sign language and basic English. They are growing every day and one of their main goals is to improve their English, so the chats we have together are invaluable for that.
Campaign image for Nisa’s debut range.
There has been a global shift towards ethical fashion, why is it important to you to make garments that are ethical and sustainable?
People have hearts and do not want their clothes to come at the cost to the women who make them or to the environment. However, we need fashionable ethical alternatives, so it’s up to fashion brands to really step up and provide them. The idea of continuing with ‘fashion as usual’ (i.e. clothing made in terrible conditions) just has no appeal to me.
Where are you planning on selling the pieces Nisa makes?
We have a crowd-funding campaign going at the moment, and people can pre-order underwear through that campaign too! https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/5445-nisa-underwear-with-a-mission We will have our formal launch in mid-Feb, and we will also be launching our online store at that same time. We will be looking for retail partners to stock our product in the new year.