Eight Whanganui women have taken a step towards transforming their lives by completing a three-day programme that uses fashion to build confidence.
The women, who are on probation with the Department of Corrections, recently took part in the second Te Korowai Aroha programme facilitated by Whanganui's Carla Jayne Smith and former model Amanda Betts, of Auckland.
Course participant Lisa (not her real name) said a traumatic event in her life in recent years had led to depression and withdrawal from the community.
"When I first heard about the course I didn't think it was anything I would be interested in but it was really cool," Lisa said.
"On the first day some of the women were introverted and would not talk or look at each other but by the last day they were all talking.
"A lot of the women have had to put on a tough ego to protect themselves but here people were able to talk about what they had been through and understand what happened.
"It was supportive and gave the women exposure to people they probably would never have met. We could look at other options and get inspiration."
The three-day programme had a big focus on preparations for job interviews, CVs and goal setting, Smith said.
"We did hair and beauty, hair care and basic styles, makeup, skincare and we talked a lot about how to be resourceful and what to look for when going to the supermarket because you don't need to buy the most expensive makeup products," Smith said.
"We did wardrobe co-ordinating, talked about body shapes and wardrobes for job interviews. The women had a transformational makeover at the end of the programme where they selected clothes and completed dressed themselves up.
"We did a catwalk and that exercise is about standing tall. They can invite their family to come and watch and all the probation officers came to support them. There was a real sense of pride.
"At the end it's always very emotional because they have had some breakthroughs and learned about things they didn't know. The whole exercise is about confidence building. They were all really proud of themselves and really grateful."
Probation officer Vasiti Waqa said the whole point of the programme was to empower the women.
"It's equipping them with life skills and practical skills that boost confidence," Waqa said.
"A lot of them have been through a lot of personal trauma and hardship. This programme helps them be the best version of themselves or at least get a glimpse of that.
"After the first day you could see a slight mind shift that 'things are possible for me'.
"I saw their faces light up and realise they could do this - they could look this good and sound this good. Knowledge is power.
"It's good for them having women like Carla and Amanda saying 'you can do it' and sharing their stories of how they have done it. One of the women has since signed up for a course. That shows increased self confidence in a very tangible way.
"If it can help them get into jobs, it makes a healthier community."
Lisa's kids came to the catwalk show on the final day.
"I haven't got a model's body - I never thought I could do that," Lisa said.
"Many women don't get the opportunity to think about 'me', especially if they are mothers. It's better for the children we are raising and making us stronger. We need to find a balance between being selfish and not valuing yourself.
"We were given a three month gym membership to Inspire and I'm going to go to the gym. It's an awesome opportunity to be with people who are doing something in a positive environment.
"For me, the programme has been a stepping stone to getting back into the community. I've been very withdrawn from it for a few years. I think more programmes like this need to be put in place. There are women who don't really know what's out there and what services are available to them.
"Feeling better about themselves can only encourage better behaviour."
The three-day programme is followed by two sessions to reinforce what the women learned and to create vision boards to help with goal setting.
Other mentors for the programme included UCOL external relations co-ordinator Katarina Hina, hair stylists Carol Hayward, of Chonel, and Chanel Holly, of Jax Hair Studio, and Mere Whanarere, of Inspire Health and Fitness Centre.
The participants received a "fresh start" package, including a three-month gym membership from Inspire, hair styling, clothing, makeup, hair products and Cotton On vouchers and tote bags.