Lissy Robinson-Cole believes in joy. From the tip of her toes, to her heart and out into the world through the energy and aroha she creates. This woman is the embodiment of colour and connection. If we hadn’t met her before we started Zeenya, she sure would have inspired us to do so.
An Auckland gal through and through, Lissy grew up in Mount Eden. She’s a real city lover and couldn’t ever imagine living life in small town NZ. She loves the lights and hubbub of bigger cities and Auckland with all her whānau close by, will always be home.
Daughter of the famous New Zealand designer Colin Cole, Lissy has clothing and fashion in her blood. It’s his influence that first guided her into a creative pathway for her life. A full time artist and lover of colour, Lissy’s more recent work in the world of crochet has her designs recognised almost instantly. Lissy’s work is a collaborative art practice with her husband Rudi, who over the past few years has also learned to crochet to help create pieces and keep up with the demand for their artwork.
One of the other reasons we initially connected is that Lissy is a body positivity advocate. She is a proud wahine Māori who thinks women should be able to dress in exactly what they want, throw out the limiting standards of beauty and do what makes them happy. But like all great self-love stories this has been a long journey.
Lissy’s teenage years were full of struggles. At the age of 14, she fell pregnant to her first love. She was forced to abort the baby and pretend like nothing happened. No grieving allowed, just back to school the next day as though she hadn’t just lost her first child. This created a huge hole in her life and sadly it led to the break up of her relationship. It was later that same year that Lissy would meet the man she would eventually marry.
The next big shock came when she was just 15, with the sudden death of her father Colin. He was the person in this world who she felt understood her and without him the feelings of loss multiplied. It was after his death that Lissy turned to food as a way to seek comfort in harsh and unforgiving times.
As a teenager in the 80’s, finding clothes for bigger women was almost impossible. Lissy has memories of being dragged to the mall by her friends who would stand in front of the mirror complaining about their bodies, while she stood around knowing that nothing in that shop, or any other would fit her. Her ability to show her self expression was almost zero. This was when she began to put to use the basic skills her father had taught her and to make her own clothes. She knows that if she’s remained slim that she never would have learnt how to sew. Her clothes are a big part of her identity and it’s the outward appearance of how she feels on the inside. Colour for her has always held an important part of that identity.
Like many of us, for Lissy, food has a strong connection to feeling and giving love. When she cooked at home, she received praise for doing so and felt the more she did this, the more love she would feel. In hindsight she knows that perhaps that wasn’t the best way forward, but as children we don’t always know the difference and so we do what we can to fill our needs.
Her internal battle with her size continued throughout her 20’s. It even led her to join Overeaters Anonymous. She saw this split people, some became so hyper focused on their food and nutrition that it took all the joy out of eating. Lissy did not want to lose that joy. Several times she has considered bariatric surgery and even booked one in. One of the things we love about Lissy is her ability to connect to her intuition. So much so that just 2 days out from her surgery she decided to cancel it. She was in utter turmoil about the decision to go through with it, and by listening to herself, she knew it wasn’t the right thing for her to do.
“You can’t hate your body and not hate yourself. I don’t hate myself”
Lissy's adult life has been a continued healing journey. In her 30’s, she was deeply unhappy in her life. She had a beautiful daughter, Jazmin, but the marriage was unstable. Tragically her sister Annabel died in a car accident at age 34. The loss of her sister compounding her grief.
Deciding to get professional help, Lissy was connected with a counsellor, Anna. With her marriage not doing well, Anna knew that Lissy wouldn’t leave until she had some way to be independent. In fact, she drove her down to MIT and told her they weren’t leaving until she chose a path into higher education. Lissy remembers being so angry and out of frustration and the desire to leave the enrollment office, she chose Communications. In part because Annabel had the same degree and was such an inspiration to her. So the following March, Lissy went back to school and she says it was some of the happiest years of her life. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities that she never thought possible for herself. Signing up for the course gave her the courage and strength to leave her marriage and start her life over. It took time but she and her ex-husband are now great friends.
After completing her Communications degree, Lissy worked for a social service organisation and for a while she loved it. But after a new manager came along, it just wasn’t for her. She had a deep knowing that a more hands-on creative life was for her. And as we talked together, the Universe/God (or whomever you believe) has a funny way of providing. Lissy told us a funny story about how she was wagging work one day to go to the movies. She was about to cross the street when a woman stopped her to ask about her clothes. Lissy told her that she made them herself and that she was getting into fashion. The woman then said, oh wait here, you must meet my Aunt. It turns out her Aunt was New Zealand fashion designer Annie Bonza. And low and behold, she knew Lissy’s Dad, Colin. She agreed to look at her work and Annie came out of retirement to create patterns for Lissy’s designs. Lissy instinctively knew her dad had orchestrated this meeting and found her the help she needed to get underway.
Not long before leaving her job at the social services organisation, one of Lissy’s colleagues, Gilly, came up to her with a gift of $4000 to help her leave the job she was in. Simply because she believed in Lissy’s creativity. She remembers receiving it, and in shock went around to see her daughter and ex-husband. Straight away her ex-husband offered the same amount. Quitting her job to be creative was the best thing she’s ever done. All of life's little moments felt like a surge of her true self finally coming forward.
After realising that she didn’t have to react to life with fear, her next love Rudi appeared in her life. By this time, Lissy was in the mindset of “I’d rather die single than be with the wrong person”. She was tentative at first, but he continually showed her his true self and the trusting relationship grew. They’re now been together for over 7 years.
After bouncing around and dabbling in a few mediums, Lissy came across crochet. She went off to Spotlight to get wool and a hook and was immediately taken by it. After attempting straight lines and counting rows, she came across London Kaye, yarn bomber and crochet extraordinaire from the States. Resonating with her free and open style, Lissy knew this was a way to express her joy outwardly.
Her first large scale crochet project was an ANZAC poppy which Rudi helped her tie to an Auckland motorway overpass. People really loved it. The next was a yarn bombing project on a fence of an abandoned lot in Otahuhu. There were 5 main images, and the response from the community was overwhelming. It brought a lot of joy to the people who saw it everyday. Lissy told a story of how her and Rudi drove past it one day and part of it had come loose and was flapping in the wind. They went back later that day to fix it but someone else already had. It meant a lot to people to have something bright, cheerful and fun to look at.
Their next artwork was something people hadn’t seen before, a crocheted colourful car. After seeing how much joy the mural brought people, she thought “what if more people could see it because it was moving around”. It brought smiles to so many faces, and Lissy and Rudi were stopped everywhere they went so people could photograph it.
Rudi is also a creative person, and it’s on Lissy’s insistence that he too pick up a hook and get creating. While he wasn’t keen at first, he discovered he loved crochet and what you could make. Which is just as well as the projects have gotten so big that it’s taking both of them to complete them. He’s more into straight lines than Lissy but together they make a great team.
Their big long term project at the moment is to crochet an entire Wharenui. They’re working with international crochet artists to create the tukutuku panels, all of which will come together once it’s ready for construction. It aims to be a place for all people, to bring connection and joy wherever it goes. It’s primarily in Lissy’s favourite neon colours, giving you that full 80’s ‘wake me up before you go go’ experience.
This woman has an unshakeable belief in the world and that her path in it will always be exactly what it should be. She lives in a way that’s authentic to her. Showing her daughter and mokopuna that it’s possible to lead a creative life and live well.
“Being Maori is our superpower and we feel blessed to be so. I know our ancestors are working through us and guiding us on this journey through life”
In her words, the world needs more love. For yourself and for everyone else. Seize the day everyone, your time is now.
Note: Lissy rocks our custom size range NZ Made leggings in the top images. We currently stock up to a size 20 but for sizes above this, we happily make items to order at the start of each our NZ Made collections. Want us to let you know when we're doing out next cut? Join our newsletter here