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July 06, 2022 7 min read

nisa luxe x saben pop up interview with founder elisha watson
Meet Elisha, founder of Nisa, a Wellington based label whose mission is to create employment opportunities for women from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Nisa are #briefswithbeliefs

We sat down with Elisha to chat about how she got started, what she's learnt on the SheEO journey, and their upcoming launch of Nisa Luxe. 
 

This Friday 8th we will be hosting the Nisa Luxe launch at our Ponsonby store, 133 Ponsonby Road from 5pm – 7pm.

Bring your friends, flattie or mum, swing by for a chat with the Saben and Nisa team, enjoy refreshments from Sisters Wine, AF drinks and Antipodes water and shop the collection with a special 10% off in store on the evening of July 8th only.

We hope you are inspired by Elisha's journey into meaningful business. 

Tell us about yourself, and what led you to become the woman you are today. 

I’m Elisha, the founder and CEO of Nisa: an ethical label based in Pōneke Wellington that makes underwear and basics. I was born here in Wellington, and though I’ve done a fair bit of travel, it’s always pulled me back! 

Like most people, I’ve been really shaped by my parents and how they brought me up. They’ve been my Number One Fans since day one, and supported all my bizarre side-hustles, including when I was a kid selling individual pieces of candy as a kid on the street outside our house. It’s weird to think that, 25 years later, I’m running my own company here, with an amazing team behind me. 

Talk to us about Nisa, those early days of its inception and what was the deep burning motivator to turn it from ideas to reality. 

When I was working as a litigation lawyer at the start of my career, I volunteered at the community law centre and with the Red Cross. I worked with many refugee clients who wanted to bring their family to Aotearoa, and who were trying to integrate into the community. I learned that, while there are a lot of charities to help people resettle, the major obstacle for a lot of people was lack of employment. People would say that, without a job, they didn’t really feel valued within the community and didn’t have as much of an opportunity to practice their English. 

Employment opportunities were the main motivator, and then I worked backwards to come up with the underwear part. I wanted us to be a business and not a charity so that we wouldn’t have to rely on funding and could scale over time. Underwear was the perfect thing to sell: it’s small and easy to store; lots of the women I had met had fantastic sewing skills; and it isn’t wasteful - everyone needs new undies once in a while. 

nisa luxe x saben pop up interview with founder elisha watson

The name Nisa is no accident, can you tell us what it means, and a little about the meaning behind it?

‘Nisa’ means women in Arabic. When we started with a tiny team on Kent Terrace, that’s what most of the team spoke. It’s a nod to the incredible team who helped get us off the ground at the start, and a celebration of the diversity of culture we have at the workshop.

We LOVE #BRIEFSWITHBELIEFS how did you come up with that?

Briefs with Beliefs actually came from my friend Inez, who’s a professional copywriter. We get so much help from amazing people in the industry who are at the top of their game and want to use their brains for good. We reach out to a lot of our mentors whenever we have big business decisions to make, which has probably saved us from a lot of headaches over the years. It’s amazing how welcoming the business community in Aotearoa is. 

 nisa luxe x saben pop up interview with founder elisha watson

You have a strong focus on empowering women, employing a team of women from refugee and migrant backgrounds, what inspired you to do this? 

It’s hard to say, because it wasn’t really a conscious decision. I think I could pin it down to my mother, Marie, and the way she inspired me. Plus, many women arriving in New Zealand as refugees haven’t worked before in their home countries, so they face additional challenges and need a really welcoming environment when getting their first job. 

Elisha, you’re not one to shy away from addressing global issues how has your experience to date led you here? 

When I was living in Germany, I noticed a lot of anti-refugee sentiment riding off the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. People were reacting from a place of fear and ignorance, which was really heartbreaking to witness. I didn’t want Aotearoa to be the same. I feel so lucky to have had such an easy life in comparison, so my goal is to create a pathway for others. We try not to get too political at Nisa, preferring to create a bit of a haven away from those issues, but we like to put the spotlight on some of our core values: transparency, inclusivity, sustainability, and empowerment.  

 nisa luxe x saben pop up interview with founder elisha watson

Although Nisa started with underwear, your team now creates everything from briefs and bralettes, tops and socks to activewear and swimwear. What drove the decision to expand and diversify?

Our customers! We often get a new customer that will buy their first pair of undies, and will come back saying “I need three more of these - and the same thing as a bikini!” We offer quite a unique value add to our customers: we sew everything in Wellington, we provide local jobs, and we’re transparent about our impact on the planet. Whenever we expand into a new space, the Nisa community really gets behind it. It’s often not that hard to transition, because bralettes, activewear and swimwear all use stretch fabrics and the same machinery.

Have you got any pivoting business moments, or lessons / advice you can share with someone who is thinking of taking a chance on their dream?

I think a really pivotal moment for us would be when the country went into lockdown for the first time in March 2020. I remember shoving all of our stock into boxes with our marketing intern, and taking it all to her flat so she could dispatch from her bedroom! We were so scared that this was going to be the end of Nisa because sales would tank. In fact, it was the opposite! We launched our first Naturals colours in lockdown, and received so many sales we had a backlog for about two months. I think it really just goes to show that, during times of crisis, a strong community will support you and get behind you when you need it most. 

In terms of advice, I’d say just prepare for some sleepless nights. Starting a small business has a lot of highs and lows, and takes a lot of manpower. I didn’t expect to get my first grey hairs before the age of 30, and yet here we are!

 nisa luxe x saben pop up interview with founder elisha watson

You have a new collection 'Nisa luxe' launching soon, can you tell us about this range.

Nisa Luxe is a reboot of our previous Luxe collection. The core of the collection is timelessness: lingerie designed to be loved by all ages and backgrounds, and to be treasured over time. We’re introducing three new bralettes and three new briefs, with the star of the collection being mesh panelling. The panelling and clean lines add dimension and shape to the garments, with small details that stand out amongst otherwise simple silhouettes. The best part is that they’re as comfy to wear as our standard range - lingerie doesn’t mean having to be jabbed with underwires or wearing scratchy lace. 

 

SABEN STYLE

What bag did you choose and what drew you to this one? 

I went for the Milan bag, because I’m going to be having a baby very soon! I was amazed at how every little detail was thought through. The changing mat and the insulated bottle holder: genius! And it’ll be easy to clean, too, an essential feature I imagine.

 nisa luxe x saben pop up interview with founder elisha watson

Rumour has it, Nisa is coming to hang with team Saben for a pop up in our Ponsonby store. Can you share some deets? When will you be there? Any treats or surprises in store for us?

Yes! We will be launching our Nisa Luxe range on July 7th, and will be hosting a launch party at Saben’s Ponsonby store on Friday July 8th with some fabulous drinks from Sisters Wine, AF Drinks and Antipodes - stop by if you get the chance! Saben will also be hosting us for a Nisa Luxe pop-up store, from Friday morning through to Saturday, so you can see the range in person and try it on. 

 nisa luxe x saben pop up interview with founder elisha watson

Steep learning curve, talk to us about the most valuable things you’ve learnt in the past few months…

It’s been a crazy few months for me, because I’m actually about to go on maternity leave to have my first wee bub. It’s been hectic onboarding my replacement and setting up business infrastructure before I go, but at the same time it’s a reminder of how much support the right team can provide. I’m confident that, when I’m gone, things will run just as smoothly as they did while I was at the helm - probably far smoother!

What are the mantras you swear by or new ones you’ll be striving to adopt 2022?

Though it’s cliche, I’ll definitely have to go with “keep calm and carry on”. This year has been so hectic, with COVID and lots of growth within the business as well as my pregnancy. Keeping a clear head when so much is going on has allowed us to take advantage of some incredible opportunities, and we’re excited to show people what we have in the works. 

Where can we find you?

Anyone in Wellington can swing by the studio, which contains both our factory and our store. We’re right in the centre of town, on the first floor of 99 Willis Street. We love having visitors, so come say hi and try on the range.

Visit the Saben x Nisa Pop up at our Ponsonby store this Weekend Friday 8th - Sunday 10th July. Join us for the Launch party Friday evening 5-7pm, and enjoy an exclusive 10% off Saben on Friday night, in-store only.