Support from the bottom up

Elisha Watson, Nisa

Elisha Watson’s business Nisa is simultaneously providing work for refugee women in Wellington while making “kick-ass” undies.

What is it that you do?

I am the founder of Nisa, an underwear label that aims to help refugee women from the bottom up. Our underwear is lovingly sewn by women from a refugee background in a sunny studio in Wellington. Our mission is to provide them with meaningful and interesting paid work, while at the same time making kick-ass undies.

Why did you set up your business?

In 2015 I was working as a lawyer in a large corporate firm.  In my spare time I was volunteering with the Red Cross to help resettle refugee families that arrived in Wellington.  The amount of generosity and charity from the community was amazing, but the one thing that no-one could gift was a job.  The families I was working with kept asking me to help them find work as they really wanted to earn money and lead a normal life in New Zealand. 

I thought starting a social enterprise would be a great way to help them out and give them their first job in New Zealand.  Once they have their first job under their belt, it is so much easier for them to establish a career in NZ.  I wanted to provide a safe space for them to practice their English, build their skills and grow their confidence. 

The obvious question is what kind of social enterprise to start.  I settled on making underwear as many women from refugee backgrounds have sewing skills and it doesn't require perfect English to sew.  I also liked the fact that underwear is different from the rest of the fashion world in that people need underwear in a way that they don't necessarily need another cocktail dress.  I didn't want to be adding needless waste to landfills or contributing to the fast fashion culture.

Are you from Wellington originally or did you move here from somewhere else? + reasons for staying or moving?

I am a Wellingtonian through and through.  I was born at Wellington Hospital and grew up in Mount Victoria.  I went away to Otago for university, and then moved back to Wellington for my first professional job.  I have heard that Wellington is the best place in the world to start a business and that sounds about right to me.  There are so many supportive people and interesting things happening; the ability to network with like-minded souls is awesome.

What’s your favourite thing about living in Wellington?

Having most of my friends and family here.  A place is nothing without people!  I just love looking across at Mount Victoria when I go on walks along the waterfront and feel so happy that this beautiful place is my home.

If you had a day off tomorrow off to do whatever you wanted in Wellington what would you do?

I would go climbing and swimming, and generally just move my body.  Starting a business is definitely not good for one's physical health.  The perfect day would end at my favourite restaurant, Cicio Cacio.

If you weren’t owning/running Nisa, what would you be doing?

Working with refugees in some form or another.  I am passionate about welcoming new New Zealanders into the country and helping them start their new lives.  Immigration law is a field I am especially interested in and perhaps my career would have headed down this path.  But for now social enterprise is my life.

Who in the world would you most like to have dinner with and what would you eat?

In terms of 'famous' people, the Obamas would be up there.  But of course my boyfriend is on the top of the list.  For eating, a crayfish with brown butter sauce!