In addition to comfort and quality, many of us are also really starting to pay attention to where our clothing and goods come from. Who made them? Were they treated well? Am I wearing something ethical? Is it looking after both people and the planet?
There are many companies out there today that truly care about where, how and who made their goods and in turn are making things much easier for all of us to shop and clothe ourselves ethically - right down to our underwear!
Today we'd like to introduce a beautiful Kiwi company who do just that: Nisa.
Based in Wellington, Nisa are social enterprise that specialise in ethical intimates. While making comfortable, good quality products Nisa employs women from refugee backgrounds right here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. They provide support, opportunity and empowerment to the women in their team, while the cotton they use for their briefs and bralettes are GOTS certified organic cotton. Their swimwear is made from regenerated nylon made from fishing nets and other waste products. That's what we call the ultimate combination!
So, not only do their underwear feel good and last the distance, you can feel as good about your new undies as you do in them.
Paper Rain is stoked to be stocking some of Nisa's range in our store and in celebration of working with these inspirational women, we spoke to some of the crew over at Nisa to find out more about who they are.
What is Nisa? Tell us a little bit about Nisa and what you do!
Nisa is an organic cotton underwear label based in Wellington, New Zealand. We exist to provide women from refugee backgrounds with employment opportunities in our little corner of the world.
What inspired you to start?
I started Nisa after volunteering to help resettle recently arrived refugee families through the Red Cross. I noticed that it was hard for people to find employment with no local work experience or local qualifications, and which was really devastating because employment is such a crucial step to settling in to a new place! I noticed a number of the women in the community shared my love of sewing, so I quit my job as a lawyer to set up the Nisa workshop And offer them jobs utilising their awesome sewing skills.
Where does the name ‘Nisa’ come from (or what does it mean)?
Nisa means ‘woman’ in Arabic, but to us, it means so much more. Nisa is about creating a haven of opportunity and expression for women, including our makers and our customers.
How did you get started as a business?
Nisa was born out of an idea and a ‘why'; the 'what' (underwear) came shortly after. We wanted to make something that was ethical, environmentally friendly and empowering. Cotton underwear seemed like the perfect fit. We crowdfunded and got the cash to open up a small workshop on Kent Terrace and hired some amazing women to begin production.
Where are your team from and what sort of backgrounds do they have?
We’re proud of the fact that our workers come from different places and have their own unique stories. We have had women who are from Syria, Afghanistan, Ecuador and Myanmar.
Why underwear? Do you make other products?
We also sell merino socks, men’s briefs, sleepwear and swimwear. Underwear was the initial perfect choice because it allowed us to operate under our values; we could make briefs and barrettes using organic cotton, and the finished product could empower customers by giving them the option of ethical, comfortable and kick-ass undies. We have plans in the future to expand our range to include even more beautiful garments!
What inspires your design?
Our design is inspired by form and function. So many underwear companies put the male gaze first, designing uncomfortable products that aim to make a woman look sexy. We started with asking: "what women actually wanted to wear?” As a result, we want to make a product that is high quality, effortless to wear, and looks good on.
What makes your underwear so GOOD?
We try to be thoughtful and ethical at every stage of the production process. The first step is to source our materials. We source ethically-produced elastics from Portugal and GOTS certified organic cotton. The next stage is production. We try to provide our makers with a job that is fulfilling and will support them and their families. Next is dispatch; we strive to keep our environmental footprint small by reducing packaging whether you buy in-store or online, and we steer clear of plastic packaging.
What makes Nisa ethical and a social enterprise?
A social enterprise is a really unique concept. There is no official legal classification for a social enterprise in New Zealand, only companies or charities. When we call ourselves a social enterprise, we mean that we take into account the community and the planet in everything we do. We make sure that the garments we sell reflect the real cost of producing high-quality goods that are good for the planet, our employees and the customers that wear them.
What would you like to see more of in business?
Ideally, we would want every business to be a social enterprise! We want businesses to consider the true cost of their products, and be transparent about where things come from. We want workers to be treated fairly. We want the fast fashion industry to be held accountable for the huge amounts of damage they are doing to the environment. The fashion industry has made some progress as customers are beginning to demand ethical operation more and more frequently, but there is still a long way to go.
What inspires you to keep going?
The thing that inspires me the most is our team. I love coming into work every day to see people working together. It is amazing to follow the journey of the makers who leave Nisa to go on to do great things. Though some businesses get upset at the idea of their workers leaving, that’s not the case for us. Our makers going on to find employment elsewhere means that we have helped them integrate into our community, and nothing could make me more proud. Everyone who has worked with us will be part of the Nisa team forever.
Do you have any advice for other people trying to do good in business?
My advice would be to start with a ‘why’. People are receptive to genuine businesses that strive to make their dreams a reality. Around 60% of shoppers are influenced by ethics when purchasing, so don’t be afraid to speak up and fight for the change you want to see in the world.
The second thing to realise is that doing good in business isn’t always easier. Your costs will be higher, and it is sometimes overwhelming trying to create a foothold that is currently oversaturated with cheap and mass-produced goods. You need to be realistic about the challenges you will face and keep remembering that you’re here to make a difference.
We hear your workshop is open to the public! Where can people go to check you guys out in action?
Our workshop and store are on the first floor of 99 Willis Street. When we re-open to the public, we would love to have people come along to see the awesome stuff we do for themselves!
Nisa Underwear for men and women now available through Paper Rain! You can now feel REALLY good about your underwear - on your skin and on your conscience. If you want to learn more about Nisa or see their full range, you can head to their website.