Hi everyone, my name is Luisa. I’m from Brazil, and I’m 30 years old. I’m the head sewer at the Nisa workshop.
I was born in Santo Andre, a city right next to Sao Paulo. A lot of people think that Sao Paulo is dangerous – they’re right. I didn’t really notice it growing up because it seemed normal, but living in New Zealand I’m starting to realise how much my life was shaped by violence. For example, you couldn’t walk down the street with your backpack on your back – you had to wear it on your front – or with your phone in your hands – someone would just walk by and take it off you. Even wearing headphones in public was a bad idea. I had a few tricks to prepare myself, like having an old phone on me in case someone mugged me.
This seems kind of strange to write as it was just normal life. Something that everyone had to live with.
I had always dreamed of living overseas. I was sick of the violence, the corruption, and how broken public systems were. Everything from education to health had real problems, and this has been made a lot worse by the pandemic. Life is also just hard in Brazil. It costs a lot to live, but people don’t get paid much. It’s impossible to move out of your family home into a flat (like is common in New Zealand) until you are married or get a really good job. All of these factors meant I was daydreaming a lot about leaving Brazil and making a life elsewhere.
At the end of high school, I decided to study fashion. My grandma was a source of inspiration – she made all of my clothes when I was little, and could whip up a dress in a matter of minutes! When I told my mum I wanted to study fashion she told me that my grandma would have been so proud.
I started looking to study overseas, but it was far too expensive, so I chose a four-year fashion degree in Sao Paulo. It was design focused, with a big emphasis on creativity, drawing, and some business skills like marketing. I loved it, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied just drawing pretty pictures. I wanted to be able to make the garments too, so I started a second degree in pattern making. I didn’t finish that one unfortunately, as I had to work to support myself at the same time. I did however do a short course in underwear pattern making, which is so funny given that I now work at an underwear label!
I started my own small label in Brazil selling lingerie. It was just me, doing the designs, sewing, and photoshoots. I got a bit lonely, and that’s when I started looking more seriously at leaving Brazil. I found out that studying was the easiest way to do this as there aren’t many working holiday schemes available for Brazilians. So, it looked like I’d be back to studying again!
Most countries will give you a student visa, but no permission to work. New Zealand was different – I could work while I was studying, and I could get an open work visa for three years after I graduated.
I looked at the fashion schools in New Zealand and I was surprised that there weren’t that many. The Southern Institute of Technology had really reasonable fees for international students, and you got a bunch of awesome benefits too, so I decided to move to good old Invercargill.
When I arrived I was a bit shocked. It was so small, and so different from what I was used to. It was safe – that was the first thing I noticed. The weather was crazily cold, and it rained a lot. It felt like there was a permanent cloud over the city. No big buildings, no traffic, not many people on the streets. I definitely wasn’t in Sao Paulo anymore.
I really enjoyed the course, and I learned a lot of new technologies. I focussed my studies on underwear and I even got the top design student award ❤️ My course was a one-year graduate diploma and after I finished I decided to move to Wellington because I heard it had a great creative scene.
In Wellington, I had no job, no house and no money. I washed dishes, I made breakfast, I made coffee, I was a swimming instructor – anything to pay the bills. I had my eyes peeled for work opportunities relevant to my studies. Nisa was looking for people to join their production team. My job interview was sewing a pair of underwear that I then got to take home with me – definitely the most unusual job interview that I’ve ever had. I eventually got the job of head sewer, working alongside Pam, our production manager.
My sewing has improved a lot working at Nisa. I love chatting with the rest of the team at lunch, and hearing about everyone’s lives. It’s incredibly inspiring to me. I’ve taken over decorating the shop window, I’ve helped out at a few photoshoots, and I’m going to be designing the sleep range (launching next year) too!
My dream for the future is simple: I want to stay in New Zealand. Life is so amazing here. I earn enough to do most of what I want to do, which wouldn’t be possible in Brazil, especially sewing. It has been hard being separated from my mum during the pandemic, but she was so glad that I was safe and sound in New Zealand.
I don’t feel like a Kiwi quite yet, but I’m very proud to call New Zealand home.