At the tender age of five, Sam Stretton, the daughter of fashion designer Annah Stretton, was already playing an important role in her mother’s company – she was in charge of counting the buttons. Today, the 26-year-old takes a more prominent role in the family enterprise with mum Annah beginning to pass on to her daughter everything that she’s learned – in business and in life.
“I’ve worked so hard to build my brand and it’s great to think that I have a real succession plan in place,” Annah (55) explains. “I employ many women who are passionate about the business, but Sam’s passion is at a different level, because I’m her mum.”
But a knack for business is not the only thing Sam has inherited from her mother – she has the same body image insecurities too. On a business trip the pair took together to China, Annah began to notice how Sam was being fussy around food. She talked about wanting to start a diet after eating only a few extra calories.
“It made me realise that the behaviour she was showing came from me,” says Annah. “She was plagued by the same weight hang-ups I had.”
Annah admits she’s only come to fully accept her own body in the last five years. “Before, I always had worries about dressing to my body shape and wanting to be thinner,” Annah tells. “But now, if I want to eat a piece of liquorice, I can, and it’s okay. As mothers, we should be thinking about the subliminal messages we are giving our daughters about our bodies.”
Sam is glad that she is having these heart-to-heart chats with her mother, and is starting to accept her body shape.
“That perspective came to my mother later in life. If I have children, I’d love to talk to my daughters about these issues much sooner,” she explains.
Direct and self-assured, Sam says she’s inherited many positive attributes from her mum, including her drive and determination. It was 1992 when the designer first started the Annah Stretton label from her Waikato farm. Sam was just three years old and Annah was pregnant with her son Edward (now 24). The Annah Stretton name is now a multimillion-dollar brand with 20 stores around the country.
“One of the messages I wanted to pass on to my daughter and to other women is that we can have it all. I never thought I had to choose between my children, my marriage and my career. I could have all these things because I’m like most women – we’re really great at multi-tasking.”
Unlike Mum, Sam wasn’t always sold on the fashion world. After leaving school, she was confused and uncertain that the family business was the right direction for her.
“But Mum never pressured me to join the business,” Sam tells. “She’s such a great role model and taught me to push myself and get more out of each day.”
So Sam pursued a commerce degree at the University of Otago, followed by a year living in Europe. When she returned from her time overseas, she decided to dedicate herself to the business after all, and went from chief button counter to Operations Manager.
“I always told the children that if I’d had enough, and they didn’t have any interest in the business, then I was happy to wind it down,” says Annah. “So it’s a bonus that Sam has come on board.”
With their head office still based in Morrinsville, Annah and Sam live in Hamilton, a 30-minute commute away.
It’s a family affair, as Annah’s husband Tony (53) and mother Vicki (76) also work for the company. It’s clear when meeting the mother and daughter that they are extremely close. When Sam notices her mother’s shoelaces are undone, she instinctively ties them for her. Annah carries on with her conversation, unaware of her daughter’s tender display.
“I love working with Sam,” she says. “She’s young and fresh, and aligns more with celebrity trends. But she also has a passion for different looks and styles.”
Now the pair are also working on a new fashion line together – Annah Stretton Black. Working in partnership has brought out a different side to their relationship.
“We still have altercations,” tells Annah, “but I have a more senior role and make all the final decisions. Sam respects that.”
Sam confesses she’s more emotive than her mum and says she loves how Annah is always there for her, no matter how busy she is. “When I get into a space where I’m challenged in life, Mum is the first person I contact. She can always calm me down and tell me to take a step back.”