One local nonprofit has transformed the self-confidence of Zandra, a student at New Village Academy.

Zandra designs dresses through Freedom and Fashion, a program that teaches students mental and technical skills for success.

  • Nonprofit 'Freedom and Fashion' teaches life lessons through fashion design
  • Many students involved in program have overcome personal traumas
  • Program has had a transformative effect for one student

As Zandra inspects a yellow dress that she designed, she reflects on the many experiences that brought her to where she is today. 

"I used to get bullied for not having the new things, new shoes, and new clothes," she says.

"So when Freedom and Fashion came and they gave me all these different things to do, with creating pieces, makeup, I just felt like I could be myself and not be judged because some of the girls here go through the same things I went through."

The experience with Freedom and Fashion has done more than teach Zandra how to design. As a Lupus survivor, she says the program also helps her process her own emotions.

"It taught me how to be vulnerable, and be comfortable with being vulnerable, because I did struggle with that. I thought it was bad to be vulnerable but it's actually really good to be vulnerable in different situations," she said.

Each step of her creative journey has inspired her with more boldness. As she explains a collage she created, she points to a phrase she saw in a magazine, and pasted onto her board.

"This one is to be someone new every day because, even with your hair, it can be with your makeup, it can be with the clothes you wear; you don't have to be the same person every day. You can speak through fashion," says Zandra.

The nonprofit aims to empower local youth who’ve faced injustices, from sexual exploitation to bullying, showing them they can channel their pain into something beautiful. And Zandra’s instructors have seen her progress.

"I always saw from the very beginning she was a fantastic designer but now she knows it. Her garments have walked the runway and she's received so much praise for her work, and for her inspiration, and for the beauty that people are able to see, and the emotion behind it as well," said Kyle Denman, instructor with Freedom and Fashion.

Zandra says seeing her sketches come to life makes her feel proud and accomplished.

"I was blown away because I didn't think it was going to come out so good, but when I saw it, I was in shock, and I was happy. Looking at everyone else's faces, it just made me feel good inside that they really liked what I created."