Your Business: Smooth operators shape bra niche

By Gill South

Stefan Preston and Sue Danmore of Rose and Thorne. Photo / Richard Robinson
Stefan Preston and Sue Danmore of Rose and Thorne. Photo / Richard Robinson

There's no doubt that Stefan Preston showed a knack for lingerie during his time as Bendon chief executive from 2002 to 2007, turning it into a global brand in its field.

He attracted big names such as Elle Macpherson and Stella McCartney to launch their own lines at the company.

But with his latest venture, Rose & Thorne Design, which has launched a new range of reasonably priced bras and knickers, no prominent names will be necessary, he says.

Each of the seven bra styles have their own personalities, called Smooth Operator and Curvy Licious, for example.

Although he had thought about setting up a lower-priced lingerie business at some stage, Rose & Thorne Design was prompted by the redundancies of a number of people from Bendon's lingerie design team last October.

They included the general manager of design, Sue Dunmore, production expert Paul Wong and designer Kelley McNabb.

"There was a knock at the door. Here were all these skilled bra developers, saying: 'Help, we are unemployed.' I decided that I needed to build a company around that resource," says Preston.

Rose & Thorne Design has been set up as one of the four companies that Preston and his wife Leslie, Bachcare founder, are nurturing in their consulting firm, Ingenio.

All the staff have shareholdings in the business, with Dunmore and Preston holding the lion's share.

Rose & Thorne Design has partnered with The Warehouse to launch its range exclusively. Dunmore knew Andrea Kenworthy, formerly at Farmers, who is now general manager of Home and Head To Toe at The Warehouse.

"I had a very productive relationship with her at Farmers when I was at Bendon. The relationship now is very collaborative," says Dunmore.

"We are so fortunate in The Warehouse, it is a Kiwi-owned company. The Warehouse under Mark Powell, is putting energy into improving the customer experience," says Preston.

"If you start a business from nothing, you need to find a space in the market where we can operate while we are fragile."

The challenge now for Rose & Thorne is to convince women that buying lingerie at The Warehouse is "cool and hip".

They are already shopping there for other things. They are going there for bras but not in the quantities that they could be, says Preston.

The Warehouse can't offer a measuring service but Dunmore argues few women use this anyway. The shape of the seven types of bras have been designed to be forgiving and the Rose & Thorne website has a shape selector to help women choose the right one for them.

The figures have just come in for the first week of trading at The Warehouse and the numbers are what they were expecting for the first month rather than week. "The sell-through has been fantastic, they have been way over forecast," says Dunmore.

The comments on the company's Facebook page are effusive, especially from larger women, who are enjoying buying pretty bras rather than the usual "industrial" types available for their size. Dunmore believes the bras would sell for $50 if they were at Bendon. Instead they are selling at around half the price.

There are 40 components in a bra - the more complex the supply chain the more expensive the bra. "We rethought it, developed fabrics that are very high in performance and standardised the whole design process,"says Preston.

The next step is to export the whole concept.

"We like the UK, because Stefan and I understand the market. They are very like us," says Dunmore, who is British.

- NZ Herald

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