Bags to Butterflies: Create your own purses while helping formerly incarcerated women

It's a paint party and these colorful boards will soon become purses, designed by the customers at Bags to Butterflies on Detroit's north end.

Brenda Austin offers advice and instruction. Normally she designs the bags, and she'll be putting together purses. After the paint is poured and mixed and dry, the wooden boards go through a laser cutter and are then ready to be assembled.

"I love doing this job," Austin said. "This is like the highlight of my day."

The 59-year-old is a mother, grandmother, and returning citizen who has now found purpose, an apartment, and employment through this program.

"I did 20 years in prison, and didn't think I was going to make it out," Austin said.

"Being here, it gave me so much light, to know that I can do so many things, and I love it," she said. "With her help, I'm succeeding in life after prison."

Austin is referring to Michelle Smart, the founder of Bags to Butterflies, the social enterprise she started seven years ago after a close family friend went to prison.

"We are a fashion brand with a social mission, so we are an organization that empowers formerly incarcerated women with transitional resources with employment and a wonderful caring network to help the ladies on their journey to success," Smart said.

Now they're launching another program called You Design It, where you come in and paint your own board. It's fun with friends and a great gift idea for the holidays. Bags start at $125.

"You come and you network and you get to socialize and just have a great time being creative in our space," Smart said.

The beauty of You Design It is of course just that - your own unique design. Customers say you don't even have to be that creative to make something this lovely.

Gwen Ogletree and Marian Plummer highly recommend it.

"When I was shown the whole process it was very easy to do and very relaxing," Ogletree said.

"For those people like myself that don't have any creativity in a bone in their body can still make a really pretty purse," Plummer said.

Sign up to create a bag here.