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SINGAPORE, April 12 — Homegrown store Naiise, known for selling products such as clothing and shoes by Singapore designers, closed its last physical store at Jewel Changi Airport yesterday. Vendors told TODAY that they are owed up to S$10,000 (RM30,815) in some cases by the retailer.
In response to queries from TODAY, its founder Dennis Tay said that Naiise “never recovered” from the Covid-19 crisis and, consequently, has struggled to pay vendors.
He said that the Jewel outlet, which was opened in 2019, was a big investment made at a wrong time and he added that the company will focus on online sales.
The company had started off as an online store in 2013 before opening as many as six physical stores in Singapore and Malaysia early last year.
However, it has been plagued with multiple problems over the years. Complaints of Naiise defaulting on vendors’ payments surfaced as early as five years ago and media reports emerged of employees leaving the company.
Last July, Naiiseclosed its outlet at Paya Lebar Quarter mall. That same month, it withdrew as the operator of Design Orchard’s retail showcase for homegrown designers, two years ahead of its original term, saying that it was due to the impact of the pandemic. Design Orchard, located opposite The Heeren on Orchard Road, is a retail, incubation and event space that showcases Singapore brands and budding designers.
The status of Naiise’s only other remaining physical store, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was not immediately clear.
When TODAY visited the Jewel outlet on Thursday, the display on the storefront was bare and the second level of the store was sealed off and appeared empty.
Frustrated vendors band together
Frustrated by the constant delay in payments, more than 100 vendors of Naiise have come together in a Facebook group called “Naiise Vendors” to figure out how to press Naiise for outstanding payments owed to them.
Wendy Wang, 35, the former owner of Canvas Avenue, which sold handmade wooden accessories and printed clothing, said that she set up the Facebook group last June after posting about her woes with Naiise on a separate Facebook group for freelancers the same month.
At that time, Naiise owed her S$5,000 and had announced that Amanda Eng, Tay’s wife, had stepped down as the chief marketing and buying officer of the company.
Wang said: “I thought it was a bad sign, and I put up the post to get the news out there in case we may not get our money back.
“I expected a few people to message me but I received over 100 messages.”
Wang has since been repaid by Naiise in full. She has also shut Canvas Avenue due to poor sales during the pandemic.
Delayed payments, missing stock
Other vendors told TODAY that emails and phone calls to Tay and his staff members had gone unanswered for long periods, despite being owed money ranging from S$1,000 to S$10,000.
Suzianna Mohd Sofiee, 36, the founder of Fen Perfumes, said that Naiise delayed payments immediately after she joined them as a vendor in December 2019.
She did not receive payment for S$1,800 in sales made from January to March last year. The payments were supposed to come in from April 2020 onwards, as specified in her contract.
The company continued to delay her payment until she threatened to approach the Small Claims Tribunals to enforce a money order last October.
Suzianna said that while Naiise offered to repay her in monthly instalments of S$250, she received only one payment in December last year. In February this year, Naiise requested lower instalments of S$30 but Suzianna said that she has yet to get the revised payments.
Other vendors such as Melissa Lam, the founder of Bamboo Straw Girl where its signature products are bamboo straws, have yet to receive its remaining stock with Naiise despite asking the company to return it.
Lam, 29, said that this was despite the Small Claims Tribunal’s ruling in December last year that Naiise should repay her the outstanding money of more than S$4,000 owed by January this year.
Vendors out of options
Vendors said that they were also limited in how far they could go in persuading Naiise to return the money owed.
Vincent Teo, the co-founder of Freshly Pressed Socks, who is owed about S$4,000 said that he had “written off” the debt because it was too time-consuming and costly to hire a lawyer or debt collector to chase Naiise for payments.
Likewise, Faizah Lokman, the founder of Bespoke Parfums Artisanaux, said that the company had spent S$700 sending two letters of demand to Naiise in 2018 and 2020 to claim back about S$10,000 in outstanding payment.
However, it would cost up to S$4,000 to file a lawsuit to enforce the demands. It could also take half a year to process the lawsuit, Faizah sad.
“They can close anytime and our company’s civil proceeding fees would go down the drain,” she said.
Without a physical store to sell her perfumes and poor online sales, Faizah said that she now plans to look for a new, full-time job while running her perfume business on the side.
Vendors said that they felt let down by Naiise, given that it prides itself on supporting Singapore brands.
“Naiise used to be about supporting local designers and — yes, on principle it is about establishing Singapore’s brand — but at the back of it, brands are all suffering because of them,” Teo of Freshly Pressed Socks said. — TODAY