SINGAPORE - 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 (June 15).
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." The company felt "pressing pause for now is the responsible action to take".
There had been plans to grow the brand abroad, and expand into homeware and an online publication, Ms Ho, 34, told ST in an e-mail interview.
Matter was seeing double-digit and, in some years, triple-digit growth year on year - thanks to loyal customers. With customers in over 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 in 2014, Matter had become a respected player in the local fashion community, earning a following (some 38,000 followers on Instagram) for its well-made garments featuring traditional block prints.
The frontrunner in championing ethical sourcing works with more than 17 artisan communities across Asia, who are involved in heritage craft processes like blockprinting, ikat, natural dye,handloom, and batik. Its prices range from US$79 for a hand-loomed top to US$279 for a shirt dress made of silk.
The core team will continue working until September to fulfill remaining orders, as well as honouring 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 will accept orders until inventory is cleared. "We do not want to be wasting or burning any of our items, as is the usual practice in the industry," she added.
Founder of retail and media platform Zerrin, Ms Susannah Jaffer, is extremely sorry to see the brand go. An ardent supporter, she had stocked Matter at a 2019 pop-up organised by her store, which carries sustainable fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands.
"I loved that Matter valued provenance and fair wages for its artisans. It's a shame that copycat, fast-fashion labels which often exploit workers thrive, while labels like Matter that produce treasured designs and do right by people struggle to survive," said Ms Jaffer, 29.
Following 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.
"In the current context of tourism's outlook, we will be focused on ensuring there is a positive rebound, whether through pivoting our own offerings or helping to coordinate a regional approach of travel stakeholders," she said.
She will also increase her advocacy work as a founding member of the philanthropist platform AVPN Gender Network, and as a business leader for the Red Dot for Pink Dot 2021 campaign.
Believing this period pivotal 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."