Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
It appears that the closing of stores permanently is what many like to read
We have never really been too concerned with figures pertaining to our viewership or what people like to read, but it’s interesting to see, as we look back at this past year—still pandemic-stricken, that the top three posts of the year are those about brands and businesses closing here. It is always regrettable and sad that good businesses close down despite their best efforts to stay afloat. The many closures this past year, not just these three mentioned in this post, suggest to us that other than real economic factors, retailers are indeed facing declining shopper numbers. No real study has been conducted to understand why people are no longer shopping at physical stores other than the general belief that most consumers prefer to do it online, as attested by the popularity of Shopee and the rising tide of livestream selling.
At the top of the list, and sitting way above the second and the third, is the closure of Pedder on Scotts in September. The “it’s hard to say goodbye” closing down sale of Pedder on Scotts, after five years operating on the entire second floor of Scotts Square, surprised many. On Pedder at Takashimaya Shopping Centre remains open. Also totally unexpected was the closure of AW Lab. Headquarted in Italy, AW Lab has considerable presence in Europe. On our island, they had four stores. They closed all of them at the end of November last year. The least anticipated permanent shuttering was the closure of Temt. Sitting on the third place of the most read post, the Australian fast-fashion brand seemed to enjoy a heathy fan base, but that was not sufficient to keep them buoyant and alive.
It is hard not to see that many of our shoppers here are attracted to reports of stores that would no longer exist, as if they have been placing wagers on who would go next. Interestingly, our top read last year was about the closure of Topshop (and Topman) here. The subsequent media coverage was about how “fans mourn” the passing of an era. With the pandemic still very real, it does appear that shopping in a physical store would increasingly look like an activity of an age past and forgotten. No one is too concern with the rapid vanishing of real spaces in which you are able to see, touch and feel tangible merchandise (since, as the common refrain goes, “you can get anything online”). We have lost our position as a shopping destination a long time ago. It does not seem we would be reclaiming that status any time soon.
Is the Pandemic weeding out brands that are too weak to exist?
Ongoing storewide sale at Temt
It is another impending closure. Today, the mass-market label Temt (Tempt spelled without the ‘p’) has announced on its website and on social media that they shall “be going out of the business in mid-June”, a month after Abercrombie & Fitch met with the same fate. When the news broke, some people said that Temt’s shutting down for good, after eight years here, is “tragic”. Is it really? That they will exit our market is unsurprising. For eight years, Temt has been tempting young women (the brand’s official target audience is between “mid 20’s—Mid 30’s”, but teens seem to be their biggest fans) with clothes of dubious quality that, in aware-of-what-we-wear times such as the present, would not be considered sustainable, relevant, or desirable. Temt did not issue any statement on its closure, not even citing difficult business conditions, given the on-going pandemic. But it would not be hard to hazard a guess: their clothes are no longer appealing.
While there is a market for every type of clothing store here, it is becoming more untenable for those that persist on the cheap-is-best, churn-out-what-others-are-making route. Temt, headquartered in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, was launched here in 2013, six years after compatriot budget fashion label Cotton On opened and established a foothold in the market for Aussie brands that won‘t stress the pocket. At its peak, they had a reported six stores throughout our island. At present, only two are left: in Jurong Point and in Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ). For all its time here, Temt’s offering has not wavered from the drab, the vapid, and the cruddy. We are not even crossing into ethical (and sustainability) territory that brands such as Temt and its American counterpart Forever 21 stay outside of. What has been Temt’s single lure is their low price. But inexpensive, as many are increasingly aware, need not look correspondingly cheap.
Temt is part of a trio of brands under the retail company, Fast Future Brands (FFB). Founded in 1996 in NSW as Valley Girl Fashions, their first label was—no surprises here—Valleygirl, presumably named after the fashionable and wealthy teenaged lasses from the San Fernando valley of southern California. For those old enough to know, the Hong Kong-born American songstress Coco Lee (李玟, now mostly a singing competition judge in China) is classic Valley Girl. Some of us might identify these girls as angmo Lians. As the name suggests, FFB’s Valleygirl targeted shoppers between “early 10’s—late 20’s”, according to the brand’s corporate profile. Valleygirl never came here, although they expanded to Korea in 2006 and, to the south, New Zealand in the same year. From the start, FFB’s low-price positioning for its brands were clear. When they launched Temt in 2002 in NSW (not exactly known for their smart urban style), nothing was very much changed, not even the price point and image. Only the targeted age group moved a little upwards. FFB would, in 2013, introduced the budget label for older women Mirrou in New Zealand.
Shoppers milling outside Temt at PLQ. The ‘closed’ sign on the glass door is a misnomer; the store is limiting the number of customers inside
Fast Future Brands (the name was changed from Valley Girl Fashion in 2007) was started by Korean immigrants to Australia, Jim Marr and his nephew Michael Ma (it is unclear why there is this discrepancy in the spelling of the family name). Although the two men largely stayed clear of the media, both were in the news in 2013 when they were in court cases involving the uncle claiming that his nephew infringed on the Valleygirl and Temt trademarks in New Zealand (the younger was apparently encouraged by the older to expand the business southwards). The case was, according to Australian media, “dismissed”. Some observers noted that the business for FFB brands was never the same since. Following the announcement of the closure of the Singaporean operations, we visited the Valleygirl and Temt Australian websites only to be greeted with the non-functional: one showed an error message (ditto for Mirrou) and the other indicated that the site was unavailable, respectively (Temt’s SG site ran a single notice: the closure announcement). In 2016, both Valleygirl and Temt in New Zealand entered into receivership. The fate of their Australian stores isn’t yet known. When we asked a salesgirl at the PLQ store if their e-shop would continue to trade, she said, “don’t know”.
When the Temt website was still accessible, it stated that the “Temt philosophy is about chic style, sophistication and this seasons (sic) ‘must have’ item (sic). Our passion is about capturing key on-trend pieces that are essential and affordable for creating signature looks for every occasion”. How “on-trend” they have been is, of course, debatable, but as one brand manager said to us, when asked what she thought of the label, “they are nowhere near H&M. How many mui (raggy) rayon dresses and shorts can you buy?” In Australia, as it is here, Temt is not known for any semblance of quality either. Charges of “rubbish material” and “poor sewing”, as well as “not sized for the petite” abound in Australian social media. Despite what is visibly lacking, Temt continued to crank up its quickly-becoming-unappealing disposable pitch.
The appeal of Aussie brands here, even when not constant, is understandable. Those who retail them—going back to Country Road in 1994 (they closed in 2007) and indie multi-label store Trixilini’s early years (entirely stocked with Aussie brands)—see similarity between what Australians like to wear and what Singaporeans are inclined to buy. Weather is often a consideration: the international autumn/winter season is Australia’s spring/summer, and just right for us. That we like our clothes “light and breezy” (read: casual) allow Aussie labels with just-as-relaxed image to find the ideal habitat here. Two women at the Temt PLQ store this afternoon were heard saying they “want to buy more shorts”. Australian fashion, contrary to what their fans (mostly those who studied in the country, and the first Western fashion retail culture there were exposed to) think, does not score big in the fashion factor. Sure, Australia has produced some big names, such as Akira Isogawa, Dion Lee, and Toni Matičevski, but their high-street labels are, at best, not catching up. Temt’s exit should be a cautionary tale. There are enough lacklustre brands here, whether from Down Under or elsewhere. We deserve better.