From the ashes of harrowing personal trauma, Amanda rises as the mighty phoenix.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Amanda Betts, and I’m an inspirational speaker, mentor, coach, workshop facilitator, writer, brand and visibility coach, and entrepreneur. Oh, and a designer to boot.
I suffered seven years of sexual abuse by eight perpetrators, domestic and maternal violence, and a truck-tonne more. I’d endured more tragedy and trauma by the time I was 15 than many endure in a lifetime. So how did I go from that high school dropout to a model and co-founder of one of the most powerful talent agencies in New Zealand?
I now speak about resilience, how creativity saved me, how to turn pain into purpose and how trauma can be the key in helping you find your purpose. One of my favourite topics to speak about is how I transitioned from catwalks to courtrooms, working with influencers and the beauty-privileged to working with the incarcerated and the underprivileged.
After years of toying with the idea of writing a book about how I turned my $hit into fertiliser, I’ve finally found a way to tell my story that won’t have people feeling deeply depressed after the first chapter! I’m 40,000 raw words in! For the mentor part, when you ask anyone who’s survived (and healed from) a horrific childhood what they want to do for a living, most want to help others who suffer/ed like they did. That’s me!
Most of my mentoring work comes through Oranga Tamariki where I work with some of the most challenging youth justice and care and protection cases in the country. I particularly love working with ex-incarcerated young people and women on probation, because they’re often the ones who generally don’t have enough support to make the necessary changes to create a better lives for themselves. I have over fifteen 282’s (released from the system having cleared their name) under my belt, too. As a coach, I work with women around the world on leading richer, more fun, healed, authentic, less guilty lives.
As an entrepreneur, I co-founded Red11 Models and formed a (now defunct) charitable trust until I finally created HeartSpeak, my greatest love.
HeartSpeak is a platform that raises funds, visibility and awareness for people, charities and projects. We do this by taking mostly preloved clothing and upcycling and embellishing garments to tell stories from the heart.
As a brand and visibility coach, Leanne Coste of ‘Better Your Biz’ and I help people get their personal and business brands ‘to be scene, not herd.’ People tell these stories using symbolism to represent important people, big experiences and life battles they’ve conquered.
A butterfly may represent their transmuting through darkness, roses the ability to come away time and again, eagles the new-found freedom after finally fleeing an abusive relationship. Many use HeartSpeak jackets, kimonos, sweatshirts, whatever, to gift, keep or sell. The only condition to creating a HeartSpeak piece? Each piece must have a heart on it.
When people sell their HeartSpeak pieces, funds raised have been used for restorative justice, to gift to loved ones or to raise funds for the creator or someone they care about. We raised over $5k for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite, $1500 for Hospice and over $1600 for United Nations Women Australia.
Funds raised for some of the pieces have helped young wanna-be actors get acting lessons, dancers get dancing gear and young girls get the rugby league equipment they needed to stay in the school competition. Anyone can create their own HeartSpeak piece with us, no matter where they are in the world. We’ve had seven-year-olds make jackets right up to a 93-year-old HeartSpeak her favourite cardi.
What role does creativity play in your life?
For me, creativity – along with nature – is life. You can quickly get lost in articles and research with all the science, neural pathways, health benefits, dopamine releases etc. in what creativity ‘does’ for us. For me, creativity helps hugely in my mental health. When I feel stressed or get into that debilitating place where I’m so busy I end up paralysed, creativity helps me calm down.
Creativity takes me to my ‘happy place’, medication or drug-free. And I’m not the only one. This from Forbes: ‘‘Creativity reduces anxiety, depression, and stress... due to its calming effects on the brain and body.”
Creativity has also, along with nature and $40k/six years with my therapist, been one of my great healers. Creativity was a platform for me to speak up when my younger self was robbed of my voice. Forbes states, “Creativity can help you process trauma, manage negative emotions and express trauma or experiences you find too difficult to put into words.” HeartSpeak enabled me and hundreds of others I work with to not only tell our stories, but to change our narrative through rewriting our stories.
As soon as I think up an idea, I write it down. Then I go to work to bring those ideas into existence. This then creates more space for more ideas and creativity to come to the fore. Furthermore, creativity is my living.
When did you start HeartSpeak and what made you start it?
There are so many inspirations... I guess the biggest inspiration came when I started the ‘Bridge the Gap Project’ Charitable Trust.
When I wanted to share people’s stories, many people didn’t want to hear from the girl who was repeatedly raped from the ages of eight to twelve by a 70-year-old man. They couldn’t cope with the story of the girl who had Stockholm syndrome only to walk in on her perpetrator raping a mentally-disabled girl who later committed suicide, which meant my girl had to go to court as a victim and a witness. So much happened to me, has happened (and is still happening) to way too many of our tamariki (children) and rangatahi (young people). I wanted to do something about that.
I also struggled with how many of them end up incarcerated. Considering imprisonment costs the New Zealand government (i.e. us) spends $91,000/inmate/year, that our governments have spent $1.5 billion on six new prisons and with our incarceration numbers increasing 70% between 1997-2011, clearly there’s something wrong in our system. Further, the horrific numbers of people consuming fast fashion, oceans and rivers being polluted by fashion, the impact of landfill and waste on our planet, child labour and sustainability, piled on top of world statistics in suicide, mental health and crime, I held onto the belief there had to be a way to make change that could touch all these areas. Ha! That’s pretty big.
Going to bed many-a-night asking many-a-question, one crispy September morning, I woke bolt upright and said, ‘I know… I’ll put second hand shit onto jackets to tell stories then everyone who buys a jacket has a unique jacket.
We’ll raise funds, tell stories, support op shops and second hand stores, contribute to helping save the planet and help people help themselves in a hand up over handout way. People will get creative and tap into their potential and learn new ways to support their dreams… it’ll be amazing! That wasn’t the hard part, though. Bringing it into existence was.
As tough as its been, I’m doing it and it’s fricking awesome!
Where do you take inspiration for your Heartspeak artworks?
He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
What inspired you to do the piece Property of No One?
Would you believe me if I told you it holds the story of my sexual abuse (the ‘Property of No One’), the death of my innocence and childhood (the skull), my mouth being ‘chained shut’ and not being able to stand up for or defend myself from my mother’s brutal verbal attacks (the chains across the skeleton’s mouth)?
It also speaks of my grandmother’s ‘pearls of wisdom’ in the white roses on my ears whispering to me long after her passing. My supporters are the flowers on the skull. My grandmother telling me to ‘stop and smell the roses’ is the rose as nostrils. The birth of my son that woke me up and the love of my (now ex) wife are the lightning bolt and heart in my eyes, and more. And it’s all in one jacket.
The jacket itself is by (New Zealand) designer, Kate Sylvester and it originally had a wolf on it. I cut the wolf out and gave it to Sera Mitchinson, a creative artisan and supporter from the start. She used it on one of her pieces, and sewed my piece up in exchange. The skull is from a very worn, preloved Zara tee shirt from Paperbag Princess, K’Rd. The rose is from the Salvation Army and the chain is from a tee shirt, also from Paperbag Princess.
What would you like to achieve through your creativity?
My mission and purpose is like everyone’s: to serve. So how may I serve? By helping people turn their pain into purpose and their $hit into fertiliser.
Creativity is the platform for me to fulfil my mission, to then help others fulfil their missions, and so on.
Who is the most important woman in your life?
My grandmother – an artist her whole life, an art director in her 30’s and a woman appointed Patron of the Arts in Cambridge (New Zealand). She was a game-changer for me. She looked beyond my behaviours and saw potential in me I couldn’t see in myself.
She passed in 2003, though remains the greatest love of my life. A lot of what she taught me about life, love, creativity and healing (she lost two sons out of three – one at 13 was killed by a drunk driver outside her house and the other, my dad, died of leukaemia when he was 35 (I was 15) has been handed on to my only child, Izaac. Izaac is 23 and doing a Bachelor in Creative Technology. I couldn’t be happier.