SINGAPORE – Creative marketplace Naiise, once having 25,000 square feet of retail space across Singapore, closed its last remaining physical store at Jewel Changi on 11 April. Dubbed themselves as a space “where creatives, makers and customers can connect with each other”, Naiise was “serving more than 200,000 customers each month” online and offline previously.
With the pandemic affecting physical stores’ sales, the retailer will operate solely on their online platform. However, it has since come to light that founder Dennis Tay had owed multiple vendors payments from the sales of their goods, with some since pre-COVID-19. Yahoo Lifestyle SEA spoke to several business owners affected by Naiise to understand their efforts and frustrations in recovering their sales proceeds and their brands’ future plans.
“Our emails went unacknowledged for months on end. It was only after I informed them that I had gotten a Small Claims Tribunal appointment that they reach out to me with a token payment of S$60, which is not even 2% of what I am owed.”
Melissa Lam, the founder of Bamboo Straw Girl, a homegrown Singapore social enterprise selling eco-friendly goods, shared with Yahoo Lifestyle SEA when asked about her brand’s situation. Naiise has since defaulted on their payment to Lam due on 30 January, despite being ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal to do so in their 30 December hearing.
Another vendor who sought the help of Small Claims Tribunal in retrieving bad debts from Naiise is The LAB Fragrances, a Singapore fine fragrance brand. Having started selling with Naiise at their Jewel Boutique at Changi Airport in May 2019, the retailer started defaulting on their sales payments the following month.
“They (Naiise) owed us S$10,244 in total. We went to Small Claims Tribunal, where they fully acknowledged the debt. The judge issued a payment order in small slices of S$500 (with the last slice being S$244) starting from Mid-December 2020. Naiise followed the order for the first two slices (i.e. they only paid S$1,000) and then went on radio silence after January 2021 despite our constant reminders.”
Having zero faith in Naiise, founder Taylan Torin let on that without being forced, the retailer “has no intention to pay up to brands,” which is a “very well-known trademark of theirs within retail circles”.
“So this behaviour (or bad intention, to put it directly) has nothing to do with COVID-19, which seems to play the main role as their excuse,” Torin said.
Days leading to Naiise closing down its last physical store, some vendors were frustrated by the lack of payment and had engaged a debt collection company. Sharing a series of videos and photos documenting their negotiation with Tay over three days, Singapore Debt Collection confirmed that Tay paid a partial payment from the owed S$10,091 to their client.
For Nom Nom Plush, a Singapore-based company specialising in plush toys inspired by local delicacies, the payment issue started pre-pandemic.
“Naiise has an outstanding amount of more than S$15,000 owed to our company since 2019,” co-founder Ong Yin Hao shared. The retailer has a “rather bad inventory keeping record, and many of our items have a shortfall which we are not compensated for,” he added. The frustration is clear for Nom Nom Plush, especially since communication with Naiise had been sporadic.
“Dennis constantly promised a repayment plan to clear his debts, but time and time again, he does not keep to his words.”
The brand, however, continues to be listed on Naiise online platform as it is based on a different business model, with the vendors sending their goods directly to the customers. “Payment for these sales have been prompt thus far, so we are still listed with them,” Ong said.
Vincent Teo, the co-founder of Freshly Pressed Socks, echoed Ong’s account of bad debts with Naiise, with problems arising since late 2016. Designed in Singapore, the brand started stocking their quirky socks with Naiise in 2015 but stopped replenishing stock in 2019 as “payments were delayed for a long period of time”, and “finally pulled out of Naiise after Christmas 2019.”
However, a rude awakening awaited Teo as his team realised “a significant amount of socks missing” when they withdrew their remaining stocks in late January 2020.
“In early Nov 2020, Naiise agreed that we had 864 pairs of missing socks with compensation of S$2,442.53. That brought the total amount owed to almost S$3,900 (outstanding sales payments and missing socks compensation). We had sent chasers after that on payment but received no replies until Dennis responded in December 2020, that they would ‘try’ to pay us S$200 per month from Sep 2021, which would mean it would take almost 20 months to pay us back.”
Teo shared that the anguish and effort taken to chase down Naiise had taken a mental toll on him and his team. “Given the amount owed, it didn’t really make sense to take legal action or to engage debt collection services,” he let on. While hoping that they will get the money back, he shared that he and his business partners “were prepared to lose this amount.”
Not all brands that Yahoo Lifestyle SEA spoke to shared the same sentiments about Naiise. One of them is Wet Designs, a homegrown ready-to-wear fashion company, where Director Nicholas Chan shed a different light.
“Wet Designs has been leading talks with various brand owners who do not want Naiise to collapse and are willing to work together in pooling our resources, capital and expertise to help Naiise and each other to turn the situation around.”
Letting on that Naiise had not paid for his goods since 2019, which has since amounted to a “mid-five-digits sum”, and communications with Tay have been spotty, Chan, however, believes that supporting local goes both ways. “If we do not support those who have supported us through the good times and bad, then #supportlocal is just hollow words.”
Together with 15 other brand owners, Chan has “been in constant contact with the founder of Naiise on this rescue effort” despite “getting flak for our efforts” from other vendors who “clearly indicated they just want everything to burn to the ground”. Despite the issues with Naiise, Chan said that the retailer has been “one of our best retail channels in terms of revenue and publicity.”
Without Naiise’s physical stores, we asked the brands if they were worried about their revenue going forward. Nom Nom Plush said that they have made sure their products are available on other online shopping platforms such as Lazada, “given our awareness of Naiise decline in the last few years.”
The same is echoed by Freshly Pressed Socks, sharing that they are “focusing on direct sales via our website and online marketplaces like Lazada and Zalora where we have more control and don’t have to worry about cash flow issues arising from late payments.”
“But there are important lessons to be learnt,” Teo shared. “Now we have stopped doing consignments with retail outlets, and we only stock at one, which is Design Orchard.”
Balancing the New Normal: