Lorraine is one of the newest addition to Nisa's sewing team. She travelled from the Philippines to Aotearoa as a child, and it was here that she discovered her dream of pursuing fashion.
Hello, kamusta? (how are you?) My name is Lorraine, and I’m from the Philippines. People tend to notice my hair on first glance, so if you see someone with big, super curly hair working away at a sewing machine, that’ll be me.
I was born in the Philippines, then moved here to New Zealand in 2011, when I was just twelve years old. My dad was the one who moved to New Zealand first in 2008, after accepting a job offer to work here. I was only nine years old when he moved, so my memories of that time are a little hazy. But I distinctly remember the hours my mom, my sister and I spent on Saturdays talking to my dad through our clunky old computer, set up in the only room in the house that has air conditioning to stave off the scorching heat outdoors, and to keep our noisy CPU from overheating. I also remember digging through the balikbayan boxes (boxes filled with items sent by Filipinos from overseas) for Ferrero Rocher chocolate that I once believed was covered in actual gold, sent from a faraway land that I never thought I’d ever set foot in.
But three years later, my mom, my younger sisters and I arrive at Wellington Airport - shivering from the cold, apprehensive yet excited at the same time for the new life ahead. It didn’t take long for us to realise that life here is drastically different from the Philippines. For starters, I was used to being surrounded by chaos. I lived in the capital city, Manila, which is far more crowded and busy than Wellington, and our house was one of the many houses cobbled together as one apartment complex. I had plenty of neighbours that were almost like my extended family; everyday us kids ran around after school playing games together, and even stayed at each other’s houses for meals. In the school holidays, my family would travel to my dad’s family home in the Bataan province, where my dad’s five siblings, their spouses and children all live together. That’s almost 30 people living together in one big house!
The quietness and spaciousness of Wellington unnerved me in the first year or so of living here. It was strange to go from being constantly surrounded by people to just having my family around. Making friends was a struggle not only because I couldn’t speak English well, but also of the cultural differences. Finding common ground with my classmates was difficult when everyone else grew up differently to me. Over time, I’ve grown to love the peacefulness of Wellington, and of course, made a few lifelong friends along the way.
Furthermore, it was here that I found my love of fashion, which I don’t think I would’ve considered an option if I never moved. Schools in the Philippines are academically focused, and being the eldest child, there are expectations of me to do well in school and to choose a career that would ensure a better life not just for me, but also for my family. We moved to New Zealand for that same reason.
That better life that I was taught to aim for, that better life my family decided is worth restarting our lives in new country for, certainly did not happen how I imagined it would be.
Instead of pursuing teaching like my mum had wanted for me, I sewed a skirt in Year 10, and promptly fell in love with the act of creating something with my own hands. That skirt still lives in my closet almost a decade later, a tangible reminder of when I started finding out who I want to be. College offered a plethora of creative classes that I simply did not have access to back in the Philippines, allowing me to fully explore my creativity. I then pursued fashion at Massey University straight after college, diving deeper into not just the complexities of garment construction, but also the relation of clothes to identity and the way it weaves people’s lives together. Clothes are made for a reason, and they’re worn for a reason; it was a life-changing experience to be able to learn not just how to sew, but to discover what I am sewing for.
During uni, I also worked part time as a retail assistant, which was my first experience into the fashion industry. While I learnt a lot through the job, I knew that my place is somewhere where my hands can create, where I can say with pride, “I made that!”
I found Nisa shortly after finishing uni, and I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten this role. When I read about Nisa’s mission, it resonated with me. I remember my mom’s constant struggles to find a job despite having decades of work experience and years of high-level education under her belt. I remember my parents poring over many documents at the kitchen table trying to decipher a jargon of complex english sentences, and having to ask me, a child, for help in understanding because I was the one who spoke English the best.
Though it was a struggle to start life anew in a new country, it’s been amazing to discover that there are companies like Nisa that see past that English language barrier that migrant families like us desperately struggle to overcome. I feel privileged to be working here, and everyone at Nisa has been so nice and welcoming. I haven’t been working here for long, but the atmosphere here feels similar to what I had with my neighbours or my extended family back in the Philippines - though a little chaotic and stressful at times, we have fun and we support each other.
I was never the type to think too deeply about the future. Having faced many drastic changes in my life, I’ve learned to wait and see what opportunities present themselves, then follow wherever they lead me. But what I do know is there is always more to learn, and more things to create. Whatever the future holds for me, I hope it’s a place where I feel like I belong, and where I can proudly say, “look, I made this!”
- Tags: Makers