A Napier woman who entered Miss Universe NZ to break stereotypes for Maori women has been chosen as a finalist.

Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia was announced as one of the top 20 finalists for the competition last Wednesday.

Miss Ihaia, who is a kohanga reo teacher, said the main reason she entered was to inspire females in her family and other young Maori women.

"In my family most of the girls go to kohanga reo or the meatworks for work.

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"We can do more than that, I think this will give them the inspiration to do anything they want."

The 19-year-old had entered a variety of competitions in the past but never had any luck until now.

"I didn't think I was going to get through [and] it was so overwhelming when I found out, I cried for ages."

In April she found out she had been selected in the top 50 out of more than 200 applicants. At the end of the month she attended a "Stiletto Camp", a three-day workshop in Auckland, for the top 20 to be picked.

The workshop had a focus on modelling, dancing, nutrition, make-up, media and PR training plus a photo session.

The top 20 contestants now have to complete an entrepreneurial challenge to raise money for the charity, Variety, and for their journey through to the grand final in Auckland on August 12 with the winner making it into the international Miss Universe competition next year.

"It's my dream to represent New Zealand," she said.

Part of their journey is attending a retreat at an unknown location in July. For the past two years that has been in the Philippines.

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The winner of the entrepreneurial challenge will receive immunity from the initial 20 to 10 elimination during the grand final.

Balancing the time between work, her family, raising money for Variety, increasing her social media presence and preparing for the grand final has been difficult but worth it, she said.

Miss Ihaia has been trying to get as many followers on social media as possible to help her raise money.

Having a larger profile will also help her on August 12 because the overall result is split 50-50, between the public vote which is conducted through each contestant's individual Facebook pages and the judges.

The kohanga reo teacher recently graduated from Eastern Institute of Technology with a bachelor of arts in Maori studies.

In the past three years Miss Universe NZ has donated more than $105,000 to the children's charity Variety.

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The Grand Final will be streamed live via www.nextmissnz.com from SkyCity on August 12.