Nasiim's Story

Nasiim's Story

By Elisha Watson

Nasiim's Story

Hi everyone, my name is Nasiim (but my friends call me Nay).  I’m a Somali-Kiwi, and I have lived in NZ since I was 12.

My family left Somalia when I was 9 and we ended up in Ethiopia, where we stayed for three and a half years waiting for the Immigration agencies to process our refugee status (my dad had actually started to apply for this when I was 2 years old). Ethiopia was very different from Somalia because it was a completely new language, but the shock was nothing like moving to New Zealand as there were lots of Somalis around and many Muslims as well.

Leaving Ethiopia, I didn’t realise we were going to set down roots in New Zealand - I didn’t think it would be goodbye, just see you soon.  Arriving in NZ, I was pretty casual about it all. It was only later that it hit me - I didn’t know anyone, and I couldn’t speak English meaning that I couldn’t talk to anyone.  

My dad put us in school the first week we arrived, and I was separated from my sister for the first time.  I picked up English really quickly because it was either sink or swim - I had to make it work. I felt welcomed and accepted by everyone, especially the teachers who were so kind and patient with a kid that couldn’t speak a word of English.  It’s not just a language you learn, it’s culture too. The teacher/student dynamic in NZ is very different from back home - here it’s so much more relaxed. I was shocked that teachers were okay with being called by their first name!!!

My family have made loads of changes in the last 10 years as we’ve adapted to our new way of life.  My little brother is born here and is a NZ citizen, and for the first 3 years he mixed Somali and English because he had no idea it was two different languages.  We even mix languages at home - my mum insists we speak English to her so that she can learn.

High school finished for me in 2012.  I took a gap year (that turned into three), and then have been studying and working since then.  I saw an ad for a job at the Nisa workshop late last year, and I decided to apply immediately. I really liked Nisa’s focus on empowering women, especially those from a refugee background.  I thought it was really interesting to work for a fashion brand in particular because there is so much public discussion about what women (in partiuclar Muslim women) should and shouldn’t wear - there’s even a big debate in France right now about whether the hijab should be banned in public spaces.

The interview for a job on the sewing team was very laid back.  Elisha and Averil’s questions were not the classic ‘business’ related ones - it was just a normal lovely conversation.  I started at the beginning of the year in a quiet period when other people were away on holiday, so I got lots of personal tutoring and mentoring, which I loved. Sewing day in and day out is awesome - it’s such an empowering skill as it allows you to create whatever you want. You have to be both creative and analytical when you sew - it requires both parts of your brain.  The average person I don’t think gets such a workout in both hemispheres. I love referring to myself as a machinist with my friends - it sounds very bad-ass.

I look after the shop on Saturday too, which gives me the chance to perfect some customer service skills and meet the people that we make the garments for.  It’s a very personal experience, and I find it empowering, encouraging and motivating when you get to help people find something that’s comfortable that you know they will love.  People come in from all age ranges, and you don’t see that in most businesses. I love that.

It’s the kind of job that you come in and time just flies.  My day ends at 3pm but it feels like I just arrived.


  • I have loved reading all the stories of the people working at Nisa. But I REALLY loved your story Nasiim. I like your way of writing it is fun and bright… humourous and political. I hope you do more of it! Look forward to buying your sewing.

    Ellen on

  • Nassim, thanks so much for sharing your story. You are empowering all of us by having a voice- keep using it. We want to hear it. Ps Love your knickers Nisa. Laurie :)

    Laurie Foon on

  • Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to read your story.

    Kirsten on

  • Great blog thank you Nasiim. Your English is very good and I love that you kids are teaching your mum to speak English also. It’s refreshing to read about your enthusiasm for your work and that you thrive on the detail of it. Your focus definitely shows in the standard of your product.

    Susan English on

  • Had the very great pleasure of meeting Nay at the opening of the new Nisa Store in Willis St. What a lovely young lady, and I enjoyed many chats on our visit. Including discussing and showing me the many sewing machines in the work area of Nisa. I wish you well Nay, in your sewing experiences and please enjoy all your new experiences in N.Z. Kind R3gards

    Karen Smith on

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