Adrienne Winkelmann has a lot to be proud of. Starting a business with just $5,000, growing it to a well recognised and respected brand, and beating breast cancer while still running the company. Her proudest moment however, is being awarded an honorary doctorate from AUT.

The 58-year-old attended the University's graduation ceremony today where she was also the guest speaker.

Having left school at 15, Winkelmann was accepted into what was then ATI when she was 21, despite not having completed secondary school.

She set up Adrienne Winkelmann after this and 35 years on, the company employs 25 staff with all the clothes still made and tailored in New Zealand.

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"There have been challenges, not in the least of which was fighting a ferocious cancer I had a few years ago," Winkelmann said.

"Some of the toughest times were coming to work while undergoing chemotherapy," she said. "I needed to and wanted to, to ensure that the business continued to flourish and all my clients and staff were taken care of."

Winkelmann doesn't like talking about her success in business, preferring to attribute this to supportive family, friends and staff, but said the award was an honor.

"It's just truly blown me away. I'm just really thrilled because I don't like to put myself forward for anything so to be honored like that is huge," she said.

AUT head of school, art and design, Thomas Mical said it was a privilege to honour one of New Zealand's most successful fashion leaders, adding that Winkelmann was a significant role model in a notoriously difficult industry.