Annah Stretton may be best known for designing wedding gowns and floral dresses but the Kiwi fashion designer also has another job - helping ex-prisoners rebuild their lives.

Her company, Raw, helps women and men who have served time find jobs and re-integrate into society after they are released from prison.

"We work with women that have been incarcerated and are displaying a recidivist pattern of offending and it's here that we start to navigate - whethers it's employment, education, living a legal life - all those sorts of things that actually get you into a functional part of society," Stretton said.

She told NZ Herald Focus she and her sister build relationships with the women for at least six months while they're still in prison before they accept them into the rehabilitation programme.


"In that timeframe we see that whole gamut of behaviour that a woman can kind of display or go through, so we can get to ascertain whether it's the right fit."

As well has helping the former prisoners into work, Raw houses them in transition homes.

"It's where they come for that first initial induction into Raw life," Stretton said.

Myra is one of about 30 people that Raw has helped turn their lives around.

She spent 13 years in prison for a crime the Herald is not allowed to publish.

"I had a long time to reflect on what I had done and to think about how to lead a better life," Myra said.

"I really regret what I had done to go to prison so I had to think of getting my life back on track."

Now, 18 months after she was released from prison and started working with Raw, Myra is a role model to other women former prisoners.


"Raw has been the best thing that's ever happened to me really and Raw has helped me stay off the drugs and alcohol," she said.

"At the moment I'm working at Annah Stretton's clothing factory Morrinsville two days a week and I'm utilising my tickets that I got in prison, my laundry dry cleaning service ticket - and I work at Novatel hotel."

Two other people who have benefitted from Raw, Darren and Norefell - who have both been in prison - now work as gardeners after the organisation helped them turn their lives around.

"When you get out of jail it all seems to be like doors are closing and not opening, but now I've got the chance of having doors open and having people respect you and having to show respect because of that as well", Darren said.

Norefell told NZ Herald Focus she was now on her way to pursuing her dream of working as a song writer.

"I'm studying full time doing a three-year degree in commercial music and media arts and I'm loving it."

Stretton said everyone who the organisation worked with had pleasantly surprised her. She wants to help another 25 people per year through Raw.