1 NEWS Community: The Wellington lawyer who quit her job to give former refugees a place in the workforce

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In celebration of World Refugee Day, today ethical underwear label Nisa, which employs women with refugee backgrounds, is opening its first pop-up store.

Since launching in February, Nisa has been operating as an online store, selling underwear made by refugees who have re-settled in Wellington.

The pop-up store at Duke's Arcade in the Wellington CBD, is an opportunity for founder Elisha Watson and her team to meet the community who have been supporting them.

Elisha Watson quit her job last year to launch Nisa, an ethical underwear company providing employment opportunities for former refugees.
Source: 1 NEWS

In September last year, she quit her job as a lawyer for Bell Gully.

"I was volunteering (for the Red Cross) at the time, working to help resettle refugees who had just arrived in Wellington," Ms Watson told 1 NEWS.

"I was spending a lot of time with these families and what I really noticed was that they were desperate to find work, but there were so few opportunities for them."

So she set about launching Nisa, an underwear brand, that provides employment for refugees to help improve their language skills, along with their self-esteem and independence.

"I wanted to make something that could use their skills and talents and provide them with their first job in New Zealand."

Initial funding from the Wellington City Council helped with the cost of setting up a Wellington workshop, then Ms Watson launched a crowdfunding campaign, aiming to raise $10,000 to purchase two more industrial sewing machines.

"We got emails from people all over New Zealand and the world, just so excited about what we were going to do, and that made me think, you know, 'it's possible', and that there is enough support to make it viable."

The campaign was successful with more than $20,000 pledged, with Ms Watson putting extra funds towards developing the underwear range and training her employees.

At the end of February, Nisa officially launched online, where people could purchase underwear made from organic cotton and locally woven elastic, as well as matching bralettes.

There are currently four employees, but Ms Watson has big dreams, hoping to one day employ 20 people from refugee backgrounds.  

But just over a month after launching, Nisa grabbed an opportunity to help more refugees, partnering up with The Unmentionables, a US based charity providing hygiene products to people fleeing conflict.

"Their most requested item from people living in refugee camps overseas is underwear, because of course when you're fleeing conflict you're not thinking about your five pairs of underwear."

For every $15 donated by customers through the Nisa website, they will provide a pair of underwear to a woman fleeing conflict.

"This has a really beautiful circularity to it, sending it back to those same people, it's really exciting," said Ms Watson as she was getting ready to ship her first box of donated underwear to The Unmentionables.

The Nisa pop-up store, celebrating World Refugee Day, will run from 20-24 June at Duke's Arcade on the Corner of Willis and Manners.

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