bankruptcy | Jun 11, 2024 |
Oka’s U.S. operation abruptly shutters

The U.S. operation of British home retailer Oka has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In documents filed in Texas district court today, the company cited liabilities ranging from $500,000 to $1 million, owed to between 100 and 200 creditors. A former employee of the company who spoke to Business of Home on condition of anonymity says that the entire staff was told that today was their last day.

An email from CEO Mark Saunders to employees obtained by BOH referred to “significant financial difficulties,” and stated that the brand’s U.S. stores, website and customer service department would all be shuttered immediately.

Oka, originally founded in the U.K. in 1999, entered the U.S. market in 2021 through a complex chain of acquisitions. Its parent company, the private equity giant Investindustrial, had acquired then-defunct Houston home retailer Wisteria with plans to relaunch it. But in the thick of pandemic chaos, the company scrapped plans to revamp Wisteria and instead brought Oka to America with a Houston location.

Since then, Oka has expanded with retail outposts in Dallas and Westport, Connecticut. However, according to the former employee, the brand struggled to gain a foothold in the market, and mounted aggressive promotional markdowns that hurt its standing with consumers. The company also suffered from frequent supply chain issues, including late deliveries and damages.

In the fall of 2023, Saunders was appointed as CEO to lead the company’s American operation. According to the former employee, he had a mandate to turn the business around within a year’s time. That plan was apparently cut short, and Oka’s U.S. business has come to an end. Calls to the three retail stores went unanswered.

Oka’s origin story is both pedigreed and picturesque. The company was founded by three friends: Lucinda Waterhouse, a skilled gardener who made luxurious faux florals; Sue Jones, whose decorating career included stints working for famed retailer Jasper Conran and legacy firm Colefax and Fowler; and Jones’s sister-in-law Lady Annabel Astor, a viscountess and the mother-in-law of former British prime minister David Cameron. Their venture launched first as a catalog business selling imported artisanal homewares. Over the following two decades, Oka would develop a network of 13 outposts throughout the U.K. and an e-commerce business, offering an assortment of home furnishings, tabletop and decor with a quirky, colorful, quintessentially British point of view.

Oka’s U.K. operations appear to remain unchanged. A spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment by press time.

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