Rose & Thorne: Raising the bra

Rose & Thorne: Raising the bra
A phoenix from the ashes of Bendon cuts, new lingerie company Rose & Thorne is the quiet achiever of the underwear world.

A phoenix from the ashes of Bendon cuts, new lingerie company Rose & Thorne is the quiet achiever of the underwear world.

When lingerie company Bendon had a spot of restructuring in late 2010, little did it know the cuts would eventually give birth to a new force in the market. Bendon migrated its design to Australia and a handful of key staff lost their jobs all around the same time.

Three years earlier, former chief executive officer Stefan Preston – known in business as Eric Watson’s fix-it man in companies such as U-Bix, Cogent Communications, Whitcoulls and Pacific Retail Group – resigned to spend more time with his kids, as the northern hemisphere was demanding more and more of his time. He’d given it “a fair shake”, he told media at the time, and Bendon needed a deep breath and a different game.

Then Bendon head of design Sue Dunmore was a victim of the company’s 2010 restructuring. If you’d peered into Preston or Dunmore’s living room late that year, you would’ve seen their two heads bent over a clean sheet of paper, drawing up the outlines for an entirely new brand. (They're pictured above.)

Bendon’s loss was Rose & Thorne’s gain.

Today, if you wander through the lingerie section at The Warehouse, you’ll find the new brand’s products enjoying a rather enviable amount of ranging in the stores.

“We decided to focus on the value end of the market,” Preston says. “We looked at the distribution of lingerie and were surprised by the fact that functioning product – good support and comfort combined with looks – wasn’t available through discount channels such as The Warehouse.”

In apparel, the biggest market share comes from mid-market outlets where there is a perception of greater service levels and quality. Preston and Dunmore’s idea in Rose & Thorne was to produce garments that were inexpensive, comfortable and stylish, all in one. To men, this probably doesn’t sound all that revolutionary. To women, it sounds like an impossibility – a false promise.

The brand is selling itself on the idea of everyday comfort first and foremost, but not without style or affordability. There’s a ‘forgiving fit system’ so that women who’ve chosen the wrong size aren’t going to be in quite as much hell.

In design, they’ve also started from the perspective of the body (fit and comfort) first, going to styling the product last, while many other companies do it the other way around. (This goes a long way towards explaining why the prettiest lingerie is also the least comfortable.) And there are seven ‘shapes’, so once women know which shape they are, they can buy the same one without having to try it on each time.

sue dunmore stefan preston rose and thorne design

Getting into The Warehouse is something of a golden ticket for the company. Preston admits it’s very difficult to launch a new brand in a volume channel from scratch.

“Even worse, lingerie has very high minimum manufacturing volumes and long lead times,” he says. “It was key for us to find a channel to market that could provide the volume, but for it to be sustainable we needed a retailer that has a compelling strategic reason for collaborating with us.” What The Warehouse gets out of it is driving visitation of its key customers: women with families.

Preston’s company Ingenio is a 50 percent shareholder, while Dunmore owns 40 percent and the remaining 10 percent is owned by staff.

rose and thorne design idealog

For the moment the brand is making the most out of social media to raise its profile – social media ‘brand wrangler’ Anya Merryfield presented the company’s case at a recent Social Media Club event in Auckland – although Preston doesn’t see social media as a marketing channel per se.

“For us Rose & Thorne is a passion, a mission that we want to share with others. We love the fact that social media offers us a tool of having a two-way conversation with people. We solicit design feedback and ideas, which we bake into designs and we love it that people take the time to tell us how much they love our products.”

Preston remains aware that the company’s strategy has to be sensitive to its category and the brand’s values. “We aren’t into using gimmicks and tricks to gain likes or shares,” he says. “We’re happy to genuinely share what we are doing on a direct and indirect basis, and we genuinely interact and engage with users who want to contribute to our conversation.”

And as for the lingerie category right now?

“Most companies are putting out lots of new styles and discounting heavily to maintain sales,” Preston says. “To fuel this approach they’re cutting costs by skimping on quality, so it’s really a fantastic time for us to be offering an alternative. A number of gimmick bras claiming to be super-comfortable are being marketed heavily on TV. We laugh because they are extremely overpriced and don’t perform to [their] promise. But we also
lament because in the short term it’s taking share and disappointing a lot of people.”

PHOTOS: Jessie Casson