The multi-brand retailer returns. Will the baggage of a troubled past weigh them down?
Designer names used to be enduring. These days, retail brands are the ones that don’t die. Once born, they can’t be rid of; they can’t self-destruct. One of them here is Robinsons, the other is Naiise. Announced on Instagram last night, Naiise’s comeback is a return to their founding format: an e-store. The big reveal struck at nine this evening, their “witching time of night”, to borrow from Shakespeare (it is unclear why the store is launched three hours to midnight rather than during the day). However, unlike the return of Robinsons, there is no fanfare prior, no media walk-through, no build-up. One post on the brand’s Facebook and Instagram pages each appeared yesterday evening, followed by two more—six hours apart—that announced their sudden re-emergence. The second post stated that followers of their social media were missed. A comment followed: “We know it has been a while, but we are coming back online”. At the time of this writing, it garnered 126 likes.
One of the earliest media outlets to report on Naiise’s re-opening is Vulcan Post, an ardent supporter of the brand, then—and now, as well as its founder Dennis Tay. In an editorial, they wrote that “this comeback is not too surprising as the previously-defunct website had the words ‘opening soon’ emblazoned across”. In their social media announcement, Naiise also stated: “We’re gonna continue our mission in championing local creatives, designers and artisans. Come on a journey with us as we inspire creativity and connect communities!” Despite their cheeriness, the new Naiise is aware that the fallout of the past (just this year, in fact) is not quite forgotten, yet. In the final post before the online opening, they wrote/assured: “The new and improved marketplace platform allows sellers to be paid instantly upon every successful order fulfilment.” However, it is not known if those to whom money was owed were all paid.
If this is the Naiise still associated with Dennis Tay, now largely held in disesteem, perhaps the declaration of prompt payment would be taken with a generous pinch of salt. But the confidence is now expressed by a new company. By Naiise’s own reveal hours earlier, seemingly written by a legal advisor, “the WestStar Group has completed its acquisition of Naiise Pte Ltd’s (the “Company’s”) online marketplace (“Online Marketplace”) as well as its accompanying trademarks and social media accounts”. It also quoted the group’s CEO Ong Lay Ann saying, “in line with its mission of inspiring creativity and connecting communities, Naiise aspires to be at the forefront of aggregating a community that has always appreciated local designs.” Mr Ong is the former CEO of Honestbee, an also-embattled company once self-touted as “Asia’s leading online lifestyle concierge and delivery service” that is now described by the media as “insolvent”. One PR manager cheekily said to us, “from the frying pan into the fire!”
The new Naiise homepage
WestStar Group is an 18-year-old Malaysian company with multifarious business activities, namely automotive, aviation, construction, defence, and engineering, according to their corporate communication material. We are not sure if they have been in the lifestyle retail business before the acquisition of Naiise, but Mr Ong told The Straits Times online that he had been “on the lookout for good quality companies that have potential to scale, and this was one of the companies I was interested in”. He did not say how the dent to Naiise’s reputation—slowly nicked by many years of consignor complaints of tardy payment—would impact the stewardship of the company henceforth. Or how he would “scale” his new charge when the former owner too tried to set the stage to enable and support the growth of Naiise, but failed, dramatically. But in the last social media post before the new Naiise went online, the company did say that “the priority will be to built and improve on the Naiise platform to ensure its long-term sustainability and scalability for a wider creative ecosystem”.
When we spoke to a retail marketing manager about Naiise’s present potential, he said he is “keen to see how they’d reinvent themselves”, adding, “Naiise, as a retail concept, is not really damaged, not in the way the name of the founder is. His name may need rehabilitation, but Naiise, through the eyes of consumers, may not. It is still the store to go to when they want to buy products with distinctly local identity, not necessarily of design brilliance”. It is possible that WestStar sees the investment value in the brand recognition—even in Malaysia, where Naiise’s MY IG page, interestingly, still remains, suggesting that the brand may also be brought back there. Hence its potential “scalability”? Conceptually, Naiise was plugging a hole in the market that, in the early years of the brand’s existence (2013 to 2015), saw few place, if any, similar to the “fancy pasar malam”, as one shopper recalled, that it was.
On Naiise’s social media pages, Mr Ong also said that “the creative ecosystem is fragmented and the reintroduction of Naiise marketplace, will allow both consumers and merchants to connect through a dedicated platform”. The new e-shop (and a refreshed logotype that is now in colour) came online on the dot, . Although it looks quite like its past site, it now lacks a certain buzziness of the former, including the snappy, even if hackneyed, copy that was rather unusual for an SG e-shop. On the new homepage, there is the call to “Meet Your Familiar Brands”. We are not able to ascertain if these 20 are those that were sold on the former Naiise platform, but Dennis Tay’s favourite curry puff cushion by local, food-themed, home-ware brand Nom Nom Plush—purportedly one of the best-selling items in the heydays of Naiise—is conspicuously missing. As in its previous incarnation, the e-store’s merchandise mix is predictably a mish-mash of the kitschy and the retro, with Singaporeana the identifiable USP. Now that Naiise is back, every day can be National Day.
Illustration (top): Just So. Screen grab: naiise.com