As told to Paul Little.
In 2017 I got to the space where I intend, God willing, to really focus for another 20 years, working on change this country needs.
Firstly, Sam, my daughter, came back into the company as part of the succession plan. She's 29 now and has been working across the fashion industry globally and decided this is what she wants. I'm incredibly lucky, because a lot of us who work under our own brands don't get that — they just slowly fade and die.
If I could do it again tomorrow in fashion, the first thing is I would never use my own name. I don't have a saleable business with my name there. But, on the other hand, my name has opened a lot of doors.
I'm probably still putting about 20 per cent of my effort into Stretton Clothing. The other 80 is about the journey I want to take and the change I want to get.
The first thing has been the RAW (Reclaim Another Woman) organisation, working with heavily recidivist female criminals in women's prisons across the country, creating vision and purpose for women the country has written off. At this stage, of the 36 we've had through RAW, no one has gone back in for an amplified crime and we're close to 100 per cent success. And after two years, Corrections have recognised and endorsed what we do.
To give you an example of how we work — at the end of their sentence or after a successful parole hearing, we relocate them from prison to an incubation home that's like a student flat. We negotiate education or work for them — and that's about a dream and a purpose, not just a minimum wage. One of our women, who had been to prison seven times, qualified as a hairdresser and has been gifted a salon fitout.
The girls coming through become the voice of RAW in turn. They can get into the low-decile schools with a disadvantaged demographic, which is something I could never do, because I'm too white and too advantaged.
We've also established Kia Puawai to get a health message out to Maori. We're good at sending the white health message about sugar, but we haven't aligned with Maori culture to get them to make changes. It seems to have been the advantaged few who've been getting the good health message.
Kia Puawai is about optimal wellness and although it has a Maori emphasis, it is not exclusively Maori. I didn't want to create an unsustainable solution, which is what diets do. It's exciting because we have had buy-in from corporates who want to keep their teams well but haven't been managing to.
Towards the end of the year, Corrections came through with the Christmas letter they send to offenders and asked if one of our women could write something in it for women on the inside, to show them what could happen if they took just a small risk. It can be hard to convince women in that situation to break away from their norm. Part of the problem is that we live in a narcissistic society that's all about us. The key thing to me is that the RAW women, from the day they join us, need to be thinking about what they can give back to society.
Annah Stretton is one of 10 finalists for Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year. The winner will be announced on February 22.