Double major business and fashion student Fiona Bongartz got far more than she expected when signing up to be part of the AUT Business School’s Shadow a Leader programme.
Not only did she spend the day with fashion icon Annah Stretton, Fiona experienced how savvy business and social conscience can work together.
This included a visit to Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility (ARWCF) where Annah’s Reclaim Another Woman (RAW) programme provides inspiration and practical assistance to female prisoners.
When Fiona first found out this would be her Shadow a Leader experience she was intrigued.
“I was quite surprised – this was not going to be a standard marketing experience. I was excited to see how Annah works, there is great alignment with both my degrees,” she said.
Her visit to the Wiri Women’s Prison was confronting and inspiring.
“Hearing the stories – what people have been through - made a huge impression on me. Their backgrounds may be bad but they are still optimistic. It showed me you can come back from difficult circumstances.”
Fiona was struck by some of the smaller details – though it was raining, prisoners didn’t have access to umbrellas. She noted how different the prison is from perceptions created by television shows about life on the inside.
“I thought it would be more grim and serious. But the place was open and the people were surprisingly positive and future-focused,” she said.
Some of the positivity is undoubtedly thanks to the RAW programme and the work Annah Stretton and her team does to help equip women with good decision-making skills, education opportunities and ultimately breakdown intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and crime.
“Working with the girls enabled me to give them an insight into the heart behind the business of fashion that we have run for 27 years,” said Annah.
“It was awesome to be able to connect young people to a world of disadvantage that enables them to think a little differently around this very challenged demographic and one of our biggest social problems, as they begin their business and life journey.”
Fiona believes the experience will influence her approach to her career.
“I want to have my own business and seeing you can combine fashion – sometimes not perceived as ethical – with giving back something meaningful to the community, is cool. Like Annah, I’d like my future business to be not just fashion, but much more,” she said.