'Last few weeks darkest of my life': Naiise founder Dennis Tay winds up business, filing for bankruptcy

Naiise founder Dennis Tay said he had exhausted his savings and had also borrowed heavily from banks to keep the business afloat.
Naiise founder Dennis Tay said he had exhausted his savings and had also borrowed heavily from banks to keep the business afloat.PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO, YONG LI XUAN

SINGAPORE - Multi-label retailer Naiise, once the biggest platform for local designers, is winding up.

It stopped operations late Wednesday night (April 14), after years of payment delays to its vendors.

In a Facebook post early Thursday morning, Naiise founder Dennis Tay announced the decision to liquidate the firm.

"It has been an extremely difficult two years, and the last few weeks have been the darkest of my life," he wrote.

"I cannot apologise enough to the brand partners whose trust I've misplaced, and to whom monies are still due. I assure you all that the situation remains so because of an inability to pay, and not unwillingness."

Explaining, he said he had exhausted his savings and had also borrowed heavily from banks to keep the business afloat.

"I also signed personal guarantees for these loans, because as long as Naiise was still an ongoing concern, there was a chance that Naiise would be able to repay, however slowly."

But he ran out of time and options. Besides putting Naiise in liquidation, he will also be filing for personal bankruptcy.

Among the creditors are hundreds of vendors owed sums from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, banks and former employees.

Audit firm Deloitte and Touche, which has been appointed as the provisional liquidator, told The Straits Times it is in the midst of reviewing Naiise’s affairs and will provide updates to the creditors “as and when practicable”.

Naiise's decision to liquidate comes after it announced the closure of its last store at Jewel Changi Airport on April 9.

The closure was the latest development in a series of cost-cutting measures including layoffs that Naiise had undertaken to weather the Covid-19 pandemic and weak retail sales.

However, that was not enough to keep the company afloat, with Naiise pulling out early of an agreement to manage the retail floor at Design Orchard. It withdrew in July last year, although it was supposed to run the retail showcase until at least January 2022. In the same month, it also shuttered its Paya Lebar Quarter outlet.

“The retail industry has been affected greatly by the Covid-19 pandemic and it has severely impacted Naiise which we understand was already facing challenges prior to the pandemic,” said Deloitte.

Even before Covid-19, Naiise was already in trouble.

Some vendors have complained of delayed payments for the goods they stock with Naiise, which sold them on a consignment basis, since 2016.

During this period, Naiise was expanding, having ventured into bricks-and-mortar stores in 2015, becoming known as the go-to place for quirky and Singapore-themed products like kueh-shaped cushions.

The Naiise storefront at Jewel Changi Airport, on April 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

Naiise had undertaken a series of cost-cutting measures to weather the Covid-19 pandemic and weak retail sales. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

At the peak of its expansion in 2017, Naiise had employed about 100 employees, although ST understands that prior to the closure of Jewel Changi Airport's store, there were only two or three of them.

Ex-vendors were disappointed but not surprised that the retailer has made the decision to liquidate.

Mr Ong Yin Hao, co-founder of Nom Nom Plush, who is owed about $15,000 since he started selling with Naiise in 2015, said: "It doesn't look promising that we will get our money back. For Gallery & Co and Robinsons, it was the vendors who lose out because they are unsecured creditors."

Others such as Mr Ng Teng Suan, 47, founder of pain relief plaster brand Koli, have started a Facebook group Singapore Brands and Designs Collectives, to raise awareness of their products.

“What we need to do now is to pool everyone together. We may start a collective online marketplace showcasing our Singaporean brands,” said Mr Ng.