New Zealand lingerie brand Rose & Thorne is on a mission to get its products on more New Zealand bodies—and, in time, more international bodies. And it has appointed Special Group to help define its brand and grow the business.
Rose & Thorne co-founders Stefan Preston and Sue Dunmore were chief executive and head of design respectively for Bendon during the 2000s and led the company’s expansion into Europe, North America and the Middle East. But Bendon's new board decided to move the company's operations to Australia and made the core New Zealand-based design and development team redundant in 2011. The cream of that team are now working with Rose & Thorne, which is 100 percent owned by staff.
Preston, who spent two years as managing director at Whitcoulls in the '90s, left Bendon in 2007, largely because he felt the way the owners wanted to run the business was "much more short-term" than he wanted. And through his company Ingenio, which is "setting out to prove that its possible to develop scalable export companies outside of tech, from a New Zealand base with less than $500,000 of capital where the founders own a majority of the company", he established Rose & Thorne in 2010 and, after spending one year coming up with its designs, it sent the first shipment off in November 2011.
"We have some really innovative ways of looking at the business," he says. "It was a fresh sheet of paper."
Since then, the line has been moving in the right direction and while Preston wouldn't discuss specifics on revenue, he said turnover is now several million and it grew about 100 percent in the past year, which is consistent with the growth figures from previous years.
He says Rose & Thorne sees itself as an omni-channel retail brand, where "every channel has its place". It sells in The Warehouse, as well as direct to consumers via its website and, in the future, through its own stores (it already has one prototype retail store in Newton, Auckland).
Up until now he admits its brand strategy has been "quick and dirty", and while it's learnt a lot from that approach, he says its growth and ambition means it is now in need of a more integrated brand strategy, so it chose Special Group to manage all ATL communications and design following a strategic pitch.
“We liked them because they were boutique and little more creative. And they can also do both design and comms."
As far as advertising goes, it has been largely focusing on digital channels, which he says are an important and cost-effective method for early stage businesses like Rose & Thorne. But that's been something of a holding pattern until it figures out what its brand identity is, so, with Special Group now onboard, it's set for a complete overhaul.
Preston says the difference between Rose & Thorne and its competitors is that it has "a philosophy of prototyping and iteration". He says lingerie is generally a choice between "boring and dependable" or overtly sexual (he points to a Victoria's Secret product called Bombshell). But he says it has a different psychology and its "comfortable, affordable and accessible lingerie that doesn’t compromise on style" is also aimed at a different customer, a "business or working woman who doesn't have time to luxuriate in herself and has a normal body like most women".
"There are so many different shapes. The industry designs products and throws them out in the market. There's no way-finding or navigation to find the right product. So most people are wearing wrong, inappropriate styles."
But it thinks it has an answer to that problem and as it "learns by experimentation" and has its designers spend 20 percent of their time in front of customers, it has zeroed in on five different bra styles and a slightly larger number of knicker styles (it also sells menswear) that suit most women.
The company is also trying to get across the message that it's a high quality brand, but it's lower cost. And "communicating affordability without cheapening it" is always a very tough marketing ask. But it can be done and online eyewear company Warby Parker, which is giving its larger competitors a good run for their money at the moment, is a very good example of that.
"There's a lot we like about that business, although we don't have the luxury of sitting in a big market."
The incongruity between premium and affordable is also evident in the fact that it sells its products in the Warehouse (he says around one million New Zealanders venture into the Warehouse every week, so it's a no-brainer from a sales and awareness point of view, although he admits he would've liked to start selling the products at a higher price), but it also hopes to create a premium experience in its own retail stores. And he's confident the brand can have the best of both worlds.