Home-grown lingerie company Rose & Thorne, a finalist in the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge, is rapidly gaining a cult following and rave reviews on its Facebook page, which now has more than 25,000 fans.

Rose & Thorne's devotees were key to the company's growth when going up against established players with hefty advertising budgets, said co-founder Stefan Preston.

"When you're small you've got to muscle your way into the market and you've got to get customers to be your fans and demand your product and pull it through the channel," Preston said. Currently the company turned over $2 million a year, which Preston said was likely to double next year, with the potential for the employee-owned business to be worth $100 million.

To turbo-charge its push into New Zealand and overseas markets the company needs investment capital but does not want to do so at the expense of its shareholders' stakes.


As one of five finalists in the Entrepreneurs' Challenge it is hoping to tap a share of the $1 million in growth funding on offer.

Preston, a former Bendon executive credited with taking that firm global, formed Rose & Thorne in 2011 with a team of staff made redundant from Bendon when it transferred its design operation to Australia.

He said Rose & Thorne gave the experienced design team, including former Bendon head of design Sue Dunmore, a blank sheet to create an innovative product.

The bras, which retail for $25, are sold through The Warehouse and the recently upgraded Rose & Thorne website.

"One of the biggest issues we've got is we're only $25 and on the surface that just looks like it must be cheap, but the product is every bit as good as [more expensive alternatives] only it fits better and has got forgiving fit and shapes and all the other innovations that we dreamt up."