Fashion brand M)phosis, once cited as among the more successful home-grown labels, has shut all its stores in Singapore.
The Straits Times understands that all its outlets in Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia - more than 10 of them - are in the process of folding. Only its stores in China are still open.
"In China, we are still in the marketplace," the brand's director, Mr Hensley Teh, told The Straits Times yesterday.
"We were having a severe cash flow situation. We were not able to continue, despite wanting to. We did everything we could," he said, adding that all staff at the affected outlets have been retrenched. "We thank our customers, who have supported us all these years."
The last M)phosis (pronounced "emphasis") outlet to shut here was the one in VivoCity on Aug 25, but many former customers are now angry about being unable to redeem the vouchers they bought.
STUCK WITH VOUCHERS
They may have already known that they were going to shut down and they still sold the vouchers.
MS CECILIA YEO, an upset customer who has $60 worth of unused vouchers
Ms Cecilia Yeo, 37, said she was sold vouchers in April and was a "lifetime member" of the chain.
"I am supposed to get 10 per cent discount for a lifetime," she said, adding that she has $60 worth of unused vouchers.
"When I bought them, staff told me not to worry about the expiry date. They may have already known that they were going to shut down and they still sold the vouchers. That is not right," said Ms Yeo, a sales executive.
Mr Teh said he is "deeply sorry" that not all vouchers had been redeemed.
The chain had tried to reach out to as many customers as they could, to ask them to make redemptions before the last outlet shut, he said, adding: "We don't take the matter lightly. But we are not in a position now to make any promises."
M)phosis first opened in 1994 at Change Alley.
Catering to women aged 18 to 35, and selling clean-cut designs in solid colours, it soon expanded to more than 10 outlets.
By 1998, it had four stores in Jakarta and two in Kuala Lumpur. In 2009, it opened its first boutique in China. It then expanded into Dubai, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Hong Kong and the Philippines. The Dubai, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong stores shut several years back.
At its peak, the brand had more than 30 outlets in total.
Ms Sarah Lim, a senior retail lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic, said that stiff competition in the retail market was likely to blame for M)phosis' downfall.
"The brand sells many clothes in classic cuts and colours. But there are so many brands out there that sell the same thing.
"Large international names, like Zara, have similar items at lower prices with better designs," she said, adding that the firm may have spread itself too thin during the expansion phase.
Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore, said that it would be difficult for customers to get refunds for unused vouchers.
"If the shop has already shut down here, and there are no other places to redeem the vouchers, there is not much customers can do," he said, adding that they can choose to hire a lawyer to sue the firm. "But doing this is costly and does not make sense. Also, even if they do that and win, the company may not have assets available for claiming and cannot honour the vouchers anyway."