Quality, organic cotton underwear and bralets. Simple, essential-yet surprising hard to find on the market today, especially if you want New Zealand made. There isn’t that much in between everyday commercial jockey underwear and Lonely Lingerie. What’s a woman to do?
Elisha, the founder of Nisa, a former lawyer, saw a need. Yes, there was a need those who want to wear beautiful, simple, healthy underwear. But most of all she saw a need in local Welly to give jobs to women refugees. Mixing the two together, she recently set us her social business, ethical underwear workshop, Nisa.
Who is Elisha Watson?
Elisha is the Founder of Nisa. She grew up in Mount Victoria and her earliest memories are of the city. Now she’s gone full circle and lives back there.
Growing up, she changed her mind all the time about what she wanted to do. At 12, she wanted to be a fashion designer. “My parents organised for a tour of Massey for me, which is hilarious!” she laughs. As she grew older, she thought of fashion as more superficial, so turned her sights to the arts and languages. “I did a PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree) and Law, and studied down in Otago. I would move back there in a heartbeat!” Elisha says.
Elisha got an internship at a major law firm where she worked for a few years after finishing uni. “I took the internship because I thought now was the time to take advantage of it” she says. “I did a lot of employment law funnily enough. Nisa’s whole purpose is to employ people. It is important for me to know what my obligations are as an employer. Working in a law firm also gave me a general confidence in the world of business. That is important because it gives me perspective on what I do at Nisa.”
Elisha was drawn to helping refugees from her time working with The Red Cross. “I volunteered and I became the go-to person for them for 6 months. It is intense and you learn a great deal” Elisha explains.
How did she start Nisa?
Elisha had a Summer away where she started to develop her job and thought of the idea of a sustainable women's fashion business. She refined the idea after attending Start-Up Weekend and settled on underwear. “The thinking was that even if you can’t sew, you can teach people to make one thing really well,” she says. The practical requirements of having a fashion label also helped make the choice to go into underwear. “Most fashion labels change every few months. Underwear is timeless. We all need it. It just made sense!” she explains.
Elisha’s interest in sustainable fashion grew out of her desire to make Nisa a business with purpose. “I knew I wanted to make this business about sewing so it made sense. A lot of women can sew so it made sense” Elisha explains.
Wellington City Council granted Nisa seed funding which helped to launch the business which is located on Kent Tce. From there, it has been all go, right up to the launch in late February last month. She’s also hired a production manager. The operation manager helps run the workshop when Elisha isn’t there for the three days a week that it is open for business.
“If I could give anyone advice it would be to take the amount of money they think they need and to double it as a starting amount” Elisha explains. “There are so many things that you need to pay for and it is difficult to imagine how much everything will cost.” She admits that while she doesn’t know how the business will do, she is happy she made the move from being a corporate lawyer to starting a social enterprise fashion business.
Who are her role models?
KowTow, Little Yellow Bird and Pomegranate Kitchen are all businesses who inspire her. She’s also inspired by journalists and writers like Naomi Klein. Yet funnily enough, Elisha is reluctant to consider herself creative.
“I love to try new things, make really quick decisions and just go for it. I love that in this job I can think of a new campaign and that within two minutes of thinking about it I can have half of it happen. I don’t think of myself as a creative person, artistically, but I know what I want and I can see it. That always made me terrible when it came to shopping because I knew what I wanted. I couldn’t find what I want but that’s inspired me to start Nisa” she explains.
So why Wellington? She loves Biz Dojo, who has helped a great deal. She loves the landlord of her property who has helped Nisa to get going. “People are so optimistic in Wellington because every day we see transformative things in Wellington that go well” smiles Elisha.