Aurea, originally from the Phillipines, is one of the newest members of the sewing team, and also spends some time helping with marketing! We're delighted to have such a multi-talented new addition to the team, and are inspired by her goals for the future.
I have a dream. Although mine is probably not that extraordinary I’ll start this story by saying I have one. But I do need to start from the very beginning.
It was the 90s, boom boxes were loud, jeans were low, hems were high, computers are dinging and cellphones were sturdier. I was born into a smart family: both my parents were doctors and professors at a University, I had a smart older sister, who never left her valedictorian spot every year of her school career, and an outspoken older brother, who seized every opportunity to speak his mind. Two boys followed after I was born, each had talents that were honed and complimented early in life. I was sandwiched by extraordinary siblings and I didn’t think I had anything that was mine. Although everyone complimented the new shirt and skirt I was wearing and that I have the face of my beautiful mother, all appreciated and enjoyed as a kid, it did not seem the same to me. I was also born in a conservative society at a time where the Philippines had just restored its democratic system, after years captive by military law. The country was changing: economy was up and down, the population was increasing and jobs were scarce. My creativity was not in anyone’s radar. Unfortunately, not in mine as well.
Despite all that was happening in the country, my siblings and I were fed, cloth, housed and more. I went to a school that was just a corner away from our house. Food was always prepared before I even realized I was hungry. On the weekends, we’d hop on two cars to spend an afternoon at the mall after church, or splash around at the pool with the cousins. I had a worry free childhood but it was a closed off childhood. The neighborhood were filled with children’s laughter playing games while I watched them from the sidelines. My hands were always held by an adult whenever I took the tricycle or jeepney. I was never without an adult or, when I was much older, friends with me. There were many Fridays in my high school that my dad would always bring me and my friends wherever we wished to hang out. He’d stay and wait until we waved and kissed our goodbyes. Yet it was very normal, not at all embarrassing because the adults never failed to remind me how unsafe it was outside.
Having a sheltered childhood meant I craved freedom. The Internet was my first way out whenever I wanted to leave the many walls of our home but couldn’t. My teenage years was the beginning of social networking. It was a time before our parents and theirs were on Facebook and blogging was a personal diary not a business. I was every where online: Friendster, MySpace, Facebook. My eyes were tired still awake in the early hours of the morning making graphics in Adobe before it was a Suite. Numbers go up to million views daily on this website I used to manage because I was obsessed. I have worn so many different personas online and no one would know. I was just an avatar to them, a user name. It was such a secret life to me that when I finally showed talent and my family noticed, it felt like it was not mine. It was also a very short-lived freedom. Logging off meant back to my the shelters of real life.
When I was about twelve I had always wanted to move to the States, as it appeared to be freer than my unsafe environment. My dad, however, openly spoke of his dislike of the country and vowed never to move there. So despite my desire to move there, I never asked. My grandparents did, though. I planned to move when I finish high school to continue my studies at Stanford University in San Francisco where my grandparents were. But my grades were declining as my enthusiasm for real life was deflating. On top of that, my parents had decided to move out to either Canada, Australia or New Zealand. That is because despite the privileged position our family was in, they were still in search for better opportunities for their kids away from the hierarchical, nepotistic social and political system that plagued our country. I hoped for Canada, the closest I could get to the USA. But alas, my parents couldn’t show the money required to move to Canada, and my dad’s age hindered his chances to move to Australia.
Six months out of high school and years and years of preparation, my mom, my two younger brothers and I found ourselves flying to New Zealand in October of 2007. My dad was already in Wellington four months prior and my two older siblings were to finish their university studies before following. Just like that, we went from wearing shorts and t-shirts to bundled up in faux wool jackets and wrapped in thick blankets all day. I had learned to accept it, and our little family were happy. Years flew by so quickly that we blinked and we’ve already made a home in New Zealand.
When our residency matured, I had my chance to loan for my University studies four years since moving to New Zealand. The freedom I imagined came when I moved to Auckland as a student to pursue a degree in Events Management at AUT, where the only events management degree was available. It didn’t work out. Freedom came with a catch and the consequences of my sheltered childhood had become apparent. I had a reality shock that brought me back to Wellington defeated, suffocated and embarrassed. Unable to accept these feelings, I left once again to Invercargill where my then boyfriend, now husband, lived with his family. This move down south turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was there that I found something that was mine all along, and it was there that I truly felt free.
I applied to study fashion at Southern Institute of Technology in 2015 when my search for a way to become an event organizer outside of Auckland fell through. Not one communication degree felt right. I was filled with anxiety and fear of doing it all wrong. Fashion, however, felt right. I had always wanted to work anywhere in the fashion industry, anyway, that studying the industry made sense. As I was going through my foundation course in fashion, I finally felt like I had something that was mine. When friends and families started appearing in the world wide web, I could no longer hide behind the Internet. The shackles of false identities were gone and I was stripped down to my most authentic self. I was starting to feel free, at last, as my interests in fashion flourished and I truly became a Filipino.
Being a Filipino was something I could not identify with my whole life. The walls of our homes exposed me more in the staged American life I saw in movies and TV. The Philippines I understood was filled with gossiping manangs (older ladies), judgemental eyes and strict Catholic mindset. It was at Massey that I gained a different perspective of my identity as a Filipino and of the Philippines. I discovered the beauty and the richness it offered, as well as the holes and scars that needed mending. There were families struggling to find jobs and jobs were disappearing left and right. The Philippine fashion industry once thrived but had been haunted by the dictatorial image from Martial Law in the 60s and overpowered by imported products in the 90s. This is when I saw a dream.
I was researching for an essay when I came across Rags2Riches. It’s a Philippine business established to provide jobs for mostly mothers stuck taking care of their homes by turning off-cut stretch fabrics into rags and then into bags. This innovative use of rags were sold to the rich fashion forward women, the heavy loaded mothers, and the working men and women. I was inspired. I wanted to do the same and build a business to extend opportunities for Filipino locals, artisans and young designers who, just like me, unexposed to any sort of opportunities in the industry. I was eager to tell Filipino stories through clothing, but Covid shut the doors of the world.
Although both the Philippine and New Zealand borders were open to a Philippine citizen with a New Zealand resident visa, the safety of moving between countries was not guaranteed. I could not risk getting infected by the unknown disease, so instead of going home after graduation as planned, I had to find an alternative. A year in retail management later, a position for sewing machinist at Nisa opened. The more I read about Elisha’s vision and mission for Nisa, the more it connected to the future I wanted to build. Somehow, if research at home had to be halted, I needed a way to build experience in New Zealand, preferably in Wellington, instead. The production side of a business was my biggest void in experience, and the machinist role started filling it in. Then, a couple of months into making briefs and another opportunity presented itself in marketing. Then now in the shop. It was an all round experience that was hardly available if I had stayed in a stricter corporate retail environment.
I don’t know when dreams start becoming real. Nobody does. I do hope that one day, as I reread this blog years later, I smile back to the time Nisa provided the key to ignite the flames to start this dream. If not that then I’m always flexible to a new dream with Nisa. If you’ve somehow read my long story, my name is Aurea and I unravel more stories of my creative adventures on my website www.aurelia-andrea.com. I hope to see you come visit us at the workshop, say hi and have a chat! <3