Naiise story about designs

From being just an online platform for design products, Naiise now has pop-up and physical stores representing 1,067 brands.

WHAT does design entail? What draws you to a design store? As design in Singapore starts to make its mark in the market, Naiise is one of the fastest growing design retailers locally, an online platform offering a wide range of original and uniquely designed products, that is made accessible for everyone and for everyday use.

Starting out with only S$3,000 and developing this online platform in his bedroom in 2013 with the belief that "design adds value to the lives of people", founder Dennis Tay has grown his business to bring in close to S$5 million in revenue as at last year. Today Naiise represents about 1,067 brands, of which about 800 of them are local designers, he told The Business Times. From being just an online platform, Naiise has also grown to have pop-up stores, and currently has five physical stores in Singapore, and had just expanded to Malaysia in June.

Before starting Naiise, Mr Tay ran a creative agency, comprising creative directors with much to offer given their design background, with abilities "to win awards on the global stage, yet return to Singapore and completely stop creating", due to being apprehensive on how receptive the Singapore market would be.

"I felt it was a waste - it's almost similar to asking Mozart to not create music," said Mr Tay, who realised that gap in the market, the lack of access to these designers, and what they have to offer. From his knowledge of design values, "that it's not just about being nice, it's about the functionality, sustainability, and eco friendliness behind the creation of the product", Mr Tay wanted to allow more people to experience the value behind design.

Building the bridge between designers and consumers was what led to Naiise's existence. Mr Tay said: "It was not just to showcase what they do, but also to flourish, and at the same time for consumers to be able to understand why these things tend to be a bit pricier, because they're made with good quality, they're made with heart and soul - which is why they are much better than a mass consumed product."

Deciding on the name was another challenge in the initial stages, as he needed a scalable name that could draw people in, instead of being an "alienating concept".

"We called it Naiise because that's also how quite a number of Singaporeans spell 'nice'. I wanted to create that kind of relevance to the local community so that they would be more willing to look at and understand the creative culture of Singapore. Even if you walk in and don't make a purchase, at least you get to see why and how creative Singaporeans can be," said Mr Tay.

From seeking out interesting partners and designers, Naiise has grown to have brands knocking on Naiise's doors as well. And it has expanded across borders. Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Korea are familiar countries, while places in Europe and America find themselves partnering with Naiise through shows that their buyers attend, or writing in directly in hopes to open up new markets for themselves. "The platform itself becomes relatively organic in nature, its growth is really supported by the fact that there is value-add to not just consumers, but also to the brands that we work with," said Mr Tay.

To ensure that Naiise sells quality and unique pieces, products do go through a selection process, with three criteria: originality, how much it value-adds - tangible or intangible - and how unique it is in the market. Mr Tay shared that they did have an incident of plagiarism, "we took the product off the website, issued refunds to all customers - because what we celebrate is that originality".

The products also do not have a specific target demographic, with them ranging from as low as S$3 and up to S$5,000, essentially offering more choices for consumers. "The whole idea is to open up that option for them, that these are all still design products that we believe better your life," said Mr Tay. "Just like how a supermarket offers variety."

In terms of competition in the market, Mr Tay feels that they are in a middle section - at neither ends of the cost spectrum, so fewer players are in sight. The market they serve consists of consumers, corporate businesses, and the professional market. "It requires a lot of development, education, helping of people to understand that, and then how to develop - it's still also a very young industry, so our goal is really to be that ecosystem that helps this industry to develop," he added.

Looking at spreading design internationally, Naiise will also be expanding to London in September, starting off with running a pop-up store in a design-driven district, while on the lookout for a physical store space.

Naiise recently also won a tender from Singapore Tourism Board, one of their corporate business partners. "We are going to build a design showcase - this will be a 10-year project that we will then work with to continue to evolve and help the creative industry to grow," said Mr Tay.

Naiise has been growing nicely in revenue year on year as well, but will also ensure that the business grows sustainably, and not expand too quickly. "The kind of relationship I want our customers to have when they walk in, is to look at all these things and go "nice!" and try to understand why is it that they feel this way or why they think it's interesting."

This is one of the 15 finalists of the Emerging Enterprise Award. Read about the others here: Emerging Enterprise 2017