Woman Today Story
Absorbing the fundamentals of the fashion industry as a model, the young woman from Christchurch – with no formal training but loads of talent, confidence and practical experience – was designing and making leatherwear for shops throughout New Zealand and Australia by the age of 21.
Throughout the 80s and into the 90s, the name, face and label of Nita Henry reflected nothing but success. She was setting records with her success in the Benson & Hedges Fashion Awards gaining more than 20 nominations and winning the menswear award in 1993. In 1995, there was nothing. Not one entry.
At the peak of her career, Nita Henry simply vanished from the fashion scene.
What few people knew about the brilliant and ambitious designer was that behind the beautiful, successful facade of Nita Henry was a woman quietly coping with illness.
Immediately following the break-up of her first marriage at the tender age of 21, Nita fell ill. She began losing weight and there were bouts of painful diarhoea.
Nita suffers from a mysterious and life-threatening – although relatively unknown – inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s.
There is no consensus about what causes Crohn’s and there is no known cure.
Medical science had nothing to offer Nita. But by altering her lifestyle, controlling her diet and managing her illness with the same determination and efficiency that ruled the rest of her life, Nita worked on. For 14 years she kept her illness quiet for fear of being perceived as ill or incapable.
“I always put on a brave face and worked on,” says Nita.
During bed-ridden periods, when the slightest movement would trigger pain, Nita would draw or stitch the meticulous, labour intensive garments that she was famous for.
“I would just keep forcing myself because there was either deadlines or I just didn’t want to let people down.”
But like many illnesses, Chrone’s disease is susceptible to stress. The frantic pace of the fashion industry proved more than Nita’s fragile health could handle.
In 1995, Nita was admitted to hospital. For the next few weeks she battled through intense suffering. “There were times when I really thought I was going to die.” Finally she had no choice but to accept it.
“I had to surrender. And I think that was my biggest lesson. It’s a very hard thing to do, to suddenly just walk away when you’re at the height of your career. I think that what this has done for me is it’s taught me a lot; it’s given me a lot of compassion; and it’s humbled me a lot – and it’s also led me in another direction.” Now Nita is taking New Zealand by storm again. This time with her natural cosmetics company, Buzz. “I’m still covering people’s bodies,” laughs Nita.
Nita calls Buzz “the Lush of New Zealand”, referring to the popular English franchise company that sells soaps delicatessen-style by the gram.
But Buzz is truly New Zealand’s own. All the products are developed and hand made by Nita, partner Alistair Williams and a growing band of employees.
Even the business concept is uniquely New Zealand. With names such as Hippy Trippy Bubble Log, Dream Creamy Cake, Hot’nLusty (bath bombs) and Strawberry Tart, the Buzz brand range includes natural fragrant soaps, shampoos, bath bombs, aromatherapy items and cosmetics.
A dedicated Buzz kiosk has opened in Merivale Mall and in-store grocer-style counters are being sold into a range of shops throughout the country. The company is also expanding into the Asian and North American export markets.