Home-grown fashion label Matter to fold

The pandemic has claimed its first big casualty in the local fashion scene.

Home-grown socially conscious clothing label Matter, founded in 2014, announced its impending closure in September via its social media channels on Monday.

In an e-mail to its followers, co-founder Ho Renyung said: "After several months of uncertainty, we've reached a decision that this chapter of our story is ending."

There had been plans to grow the brand abroad and expand into homeware and an online publication, Ms Ho, 34, told The Straits Times in an e-mail interview.

Matter had double-digit and, in some years, triple-digit growth year on year, thanks to loyal customers in more than 60 countries. It had hoped to diversify its market mix as most of its sales came from Singapore and the United States.

"Covid-19 has claimed many businesses that while healthy, do not have deep pockets in terms of cash flow," said Ms Ho.

"Our business model is such that much of our cash flow is tied up in inventory and inventory-in-making because we commit to a deposit of 50 per cent upfront to the artisans and the usual lead time for our products is six months.

"Although you could say being a digitally native brand we were well-positioned for Covid-19, I think the combination of cash-flow bottlenecks, supply-chain issues and soft demand for premium-priced apparel still led us here."

Since its founding, Matter had become a respected player in the local fashion community, earning a following (about 38,000 Instagram followers) for its well-made garments featuring traditional block prints.

The front-runner in championing ethical sourcing works with more than 17 artisan communities across Asia, who are involved in heritage craft processes such as blockprinting, ikat, natural dye, handloom and batik. Its prices range from US$79 (S$110) for a hand-loomed top to US$279 for a shirt dress made of silk.

The core team will continue working until September to fulfil remaining orders, as well as honour outstanding products-in-making with its artisan producers.

Ms Ho added that they have about double the amount of inventory still on the way.

The site (matterprints.com) will accept orders until the inventory is cleared.

After the closure, Ms Ho - whose parents are Mr Ho Kwon Ping and Ms Claire Chiang, founders of resort group Banyan Tree Holdings - will continue in her role as vice-president of brand development and strategy in the family business, doubling down on efforts to pivot in a post-Covid travel landscape.

Believing this period crucial in reframing ideas about consumption and sustainability, Ms Ho added: "When we started, artisan craft and generational heritage, together with rural economies of making, were not at the forefront of fashion or online commerce. Today, that has changed.

"Of course, I am deeply sad. However when one door closes, another one opens."