Waikato-based fashion designer Annah Stretton didn’t get much of a break over summer.

Like many entrepreneurs, Stretton finds it hard to take time off work.

While most people were laying on the beach or lounging around home, Stretton had her head down working on two new ventures from her Coromandel holiday home.

In the past week she has launched consultancy service Fish Digital and charitable organisation Hope-Fish.

For the past decade the celebrated fashionista has spent a significant chunk of her time on philanthropic endeavours through her namesake foundation, including work to transform the lives of female offenders and those faced with hardship.

Through its three charities, the Annah Stretton Foundation aims to “build up the confidence, capacity and capability of individuals and organisations in order to shift them out of the shadow of disadvantage and towards long-term prosperity”.

“It’s nice to think that we can be bigger than our bottom lines,” says Stretton of her not-for-profit projects.

Stretton’s latest venture, Fish Digital, which helps start-ups connect with digital professionals for marketing and public relations work, was born out of the requests for advice she received over the summer break.

She had also found that there was “a real distrust” of the consultancy space.

“I spend a lot of time mentoring small business, a lot of people reach out to me and it is different now [since Covid-19] as a lot of people are really aware that their digital footprint is lacking,” Stretton tells the Herald.

“As much as helping people, I started to think, ‘what if I was to put something together that was a social enterprise that would enable [businesses] to use my contractors and enlist others that are wanting to help start-ups and small business that are battling to put the digital PR-marketing strategy in, and then teach them to fish’ – that’s why I call it Fish Digital.

“I tend to find that we can create these dependencies and that people have to keep coming back to get the work done that they need and they never really learn how to fish, and so that becomes very expensive for them.”

Hope-Fish was born out of Stretton’s time spent with incarcerated women.

She describes it as an organisation that creates opportunity for all sorts of women, including those who had not been incarcerated but who have been unable to advance themselves through either a job, education or opportunity.

She uses her connections in the business world built over the past 30 years to put people in touch with others who can help them and to access funding and scholarship programmes through keen investors.

“Hope-Fish once again has the fish in its name because it is about not building dependencies. As a country we’re really good at creating dependencies by continuing to hand out to people that are struggling, so I figured there was another way to actually give people independence and self-love that they need to find their purpose.”

Annah Stretton says the fashion label’s pivot to making masks last year during the height of the pandemic had enabled many Kiwis to reconnect with the brand. Photo / Screen shot

In addition to the new ventures, charities and powerhouse fashion label Annah Stretton Clothing, which operates 12 Annah Stretton stores and was set up in 1992, Stretton also works on pet wellness brand Olive’s Kitchen with her daughter Sami which is gearing up to explore export opportunities.

Stretton describes herself as an innovator, product developer and “ideas person”. She splits her time between all of her charities and businesses and still works on the Stretton Group clothing design team. On top of that, she is also completing a Masters degree in social policy.

She likes to keep herself busy, and says she doesn’t have plans to retire – or slow down – ever.