“We know you, dude. We get you. We ARE you.”
This quote from co-founder Vishaal Melwani pretty much sums up why Combat Gent is about to rock the world of menswear.
Combat Gent is an online menswear brand that focuses on workplace attire, offering an assortment of suits, shirts, pants, shorts, ties, and accessories. What really sets them apart, though, is the quality of their merchandise–they’re able to offer super high quality pieces for insanely affordable prices.
The secret to this is their direct to consumer model, which comes as a result of the cofounders’ collective background. Vishaal himself has extensive experience in garment production and garment design development, and each of the founders has spent about 10 years in various areas of product development, from design to marketing to logistics.
Their decision to unite and “use [their] powers for good” resulted in the launch of this brand–one that exemplifies the characteristics of the kickass high-powered executive that we all dream of embodying.
We sat down with Vishaal to talk about Combat Gent, and his vision for the future of the brand.
Third Wave Fashion: Tell us about Combat Gent, and why you started the company.
Vishaal Melwani: When the idea of Combat Gent was first starting to form, I owned a trading firm. I was producing garments specifically for smaller streetwear and urban brands, helping them tap into overseas production without high minimums. We saw that our clients were taking our clothing that we were manufacturing for a really great price, and marking them up 15-16 times. They were making killer money, but they weren’t really helping the consumer. All of our buddies were getting out of college or grad school; they were tied up in so much debt, the last thing they needed was a high bill for a suit from Hugo Boss.
So we thought, why don’t we create a socially aware brand that helps guys who are moving into the working environment–or even guys who are already in the working environment but just don’t like to spend that kind of money. There may be other options like the Men’s Wearhouses and such, but our number one concern was to create an environment for a guy where he didn’t feel ashamed to be shopping–for the guy who didn’t want to go shopping in the men’s section at Forever 21 with his girlfriend. We wanted to make them feel comfortable, while also addressing the fact that they’re financially challenged and on a budget; to create a house for them to come into and really love the price and quality of the clothing, and fall in love with the brand that way.
TWF: Tell us about your team.
VM: I’m the CEO/Creative Director, so I handle everything in terms of design to delivery–what product collections we’re coming out with, styling, trending, merchandising. Tracy Kuroye is our CFO/Logistics Manager, so she takes care of everything on the back end, in terms of budgeting, making sure everything is rolling with our current seed investment, handling inventory, etc. Our CMO, Mohit Melwani (my cousin), handles all of the front end marketing, from social media to any sort of print ads we’re launching, and beyond.
TWF: What sets you apart from your competitors?
VM: First and foremost, all of the founders come from the production background. We didn’t come from tech or law or wherever. There are a lot of other direct to consumer brands out there, but for us, we know how to make product the best way it’s able to be made. We don’t need to go to a trading firm like a lot of our competitors out there. We don’t need a third-party manufacturer–we already have long-standing relationships with these factories.
You can see from comparing our prices to our competitors’ prices that it’s really just two different scenarios altogether. It’s not because we’re lower quality, it’s because we really do everything in-house prior to getting to the factories. We cut and sew all of our original samples, and all of our original patterns are graded in-house. It can cost a lot of money even to just get a proto or pre-production sample out of the factory, so we can cut our costs right there by pre-developing development. If we can’t do it on a machine here, in-house in LA, then it’s probably not going to be done–we really want to make sure that the costs are curbed right off the bat so we don’t run into any crazy scenarios, like overstocking issues or anything. I think that sets us completely apart.
We also try to focus specifically on the working environment. A lot of other brands are doing direct to consumer very well, but our demographic right now is so focused: it’s guys that are struggling to get ahead at the workplace, and they really need the suits and shirts and multi-purpose wear. We’re planning to create a more casual line in the future, but our focus is workplace attire.
We do realize, though, that a lot of our guys are going to be using our clothing for everything, especially the shirts. We need to make this stuff almost bulletproof: a) these guys are not going to dry clean it every time they wear it, b) they’re not going to take extra care over buttons and details like that. We take the time to preshrink all of our goods prior to cutting, so if it gets thrown in the laundry, it’ll be okay. Our number one connect with our clientele is, we know you, dude. We get you. We ARE you. We all do that !@#$%^&*, so why wouldn’t you? Our thing was, live the brand. It all comes down to us being just like our clientele: being scrappy, resourceful, and able to adapt to what you have and make the most of what you get.
TWF: So you said you do most of the pre-production in-house in order to cut costs. Have you put thought into how this will be scalable in the future?
VM: The best part about being based on the West Coast is that our garment district is so close to us. Our resources are around the corner, and we agree that it’s awesome to see things made in the USA. Our whole goal is to do what we do best as product designers, do it in-house, and if we can get it sourced locally, we will. Right now we’re working with our denim manufacturers in downtown LA, doing premium denim under $50. So we’re able to scale because of the fact that our fits are being made as we’re talking. We’re already working into the future.
TWF: From a tech perspective, are there features that make Combat Gent extra awesome?
VM: Being in LA, and being a fashion-based startup, that phrase “fashion tech” doesn’t really come up because it’s not yet a category here. But it is a huge part of our site! The fashion and tech on our site go hand in hand. We already have a Matching feature–if a guy finds a tie he likes, he can hit “match” and it will show him shirts and pants that it goes with–then, he’s able to save that match, so even if he can’t buy it all at the same time, he can go back and be able to purchase the whole thing.
To further develop the tech features on the site, we’re adding the Gent Lab. In the Gent Lab, we’ll be putting up samples that we’re making in-house and asking for feedback from our clients–do you like this? Is there something you’d want altered on it? We’re so excited that we’re able to do this because we get to be more vocal and connected to our clients, and they can sort of direct what they’d like to see.
We’re also launching something called the Combatant Cadet Club, where all of our members will be able to get alterations on their clothing, prior to receiving it. It’s our touch on custom clothing–using our ready to wear stuff, but basing it off of their measurements, and then altering it for them–for a nominal cost.
We’ll be giving every Combat Gent a “real-time body profile” that they can save and adjust. So if a guy gains a little weight and his waist adjusts, he can come into his closet and alter the waist measurement, then send his pants back in and we’ll let them out for him. That way, if he bought a $150 suit from us, he can be sure that if anything happens down the line, he won’t have to worry about getting a new one.
We’re sort of disrupting the custom/bespoke world. There are a brands out there who are offering these suiting alterations, but you have to wait 3-6 weeks. With us, we’re using our ready-to-wear that we already have. I can recut a pant in about an hour and a half, and I know there are people we can work with who are quicker than me!
Adding a better social experience for our clients is at the forefront of our development list. We are excited to add on items such as an iOS app for our matching and closet portion of our site, all the way to body profiling. We are looking to use tech to build a unique and better experience for our Gents.
TWF: If your startup was a person, who would it be?
VM: So, all of us watched Entourage, and one day we were sitting in the office discussing how every guy wants to be like Ari Gold. He’s the most ridiculous person, he can say whatever the hell he wants, and the only reason he gets away with it is because he’s dressed to the nines–no matter what he’s doing, whether he’s playing golf or walking around the office screaming at people.
So if you think about it, every guy–even if he thinks Ari’s a d-bag or whatever–wants to be like him because he gets !@#$%^&* done and the way he does it is so different than everyone else. So you kind of want to be that guy, and that’s the epitome of the Combat Gent.
Even that new show Suits–the main character is a high-powered lawyer named Harvey, and he’s another badass, powerful guy. We’re trying to make that feeling available to our guys. If our suit is going to make them feel like that, I mean hopefully they won’t get fired, but just go for it.
TWF: So that’s where the name Combatant Gentleman comes from.
VM: Yeah, we were like, what is it that the modern guy views himself as? A friend was explaining his experience in the workplace, how it’s so competitive that it’s like a warzone. And I was like, dude–so you’re like a combatant gentleman–you’re all dressed in suits and shirts and ties, and you’re walking through the office as essentially your own army, everyone fighting to get to the top. We find that a lot of the guys who find us get the name right away–they’re like, that’s exactly how we feel!
TWF: Tell us how the funding process has been for you.
VM: It’s been interesting! We started in early May, and launched the site around the same time. We did everything strategically and planned things out: we’re going to be in development for this long, then we’re going to launch and start fundraising right away. We had taken our seed fund and grown a lot, and gotten the clothing out there–we’re actually sold out of mostly everything! We won first place at a two-minute pitch event in San Francisco, and from there it’s sort of taken off.
Now, we’re trying to slow down and see what’s on the table–it’s a bigger disconnect being in LA because the money is on the East Coast in New York and in Silicon Valley, and while there is a little pocket coming up in West LA, it’s nowhere near the response we’re getting from the other two spots.
We’re looking for enough to get more product into the realm, then let the brand expand for itself. At the end of the day, all of the founders understand business. We need to have sales so we can turn over more profits and make our investors happy, and of course our clients happy–and from there, we can keep growing. If the brand is skinny, the founders have to run the business skinny, too–which is why we aren’t asking for this crazy amount of money without seeing real numbers yet. A year down the road when we’re selling out of everything, then yeah!
TWF: What types of investors are showing interest?
VM: Lots of investors are loving what we’ve done, but many don’t have any sort of ecommerce background! Our goal is to find investors who really understand ecommerce and fashion in general, and really care for this new wave of how brands are going to be built from now on, merging ecommerce and different technology features to not only save money, but to save time.
TWF: What marketing tools are you finding valuable so far?
VM: As of now, we have a zero dollar marketing budget. We’ve been using social media and our blog to get stuff out there, and it’s going great!
We’re really looking forward to our College Cadet Tour that’s planned for the fall, where we’re going to be hitting up major institutions through a student liaison to make our brand more prevalent within the collegiate scene. We want to be “that brand” that understands that demographic, that gets Generation Y. We understand that you don’t have any money and that, if you do, you’re going to spend it on an iPhone, not on a button down or a suit. We want to go straight to that demo and show them the site and why it’s quality.
On our blog, we’re going to be launching a new series called “Who is the Combat Gent?” We’ll be finding guys who are at other startups, CEO’s, junior associates at institutional banks, etc. and exposé-ing them–asking them why they’re a Combat Gent and what they’ve done to get to where they’re at. Focusing on what our demo wants to know: how do you go from being broke to being rich and successful? Making it more of a lifestyle, and a one-on-one approach.
TWF: Where do you find inspiration?
VM: It’s everywhere for Combat Gent–we’re socially aware. We’re watching what other guys are going through, and what’s happening in the world, with the economy and all that. Our number one goal is to help, and make it known that we see the problem, that we know what guys are going through. We’ve made clothes for high end brands and we know it doesn’t cost any differently than what we make our clothing for. That’s what inspires us!
The wife of one of our customers emailed us a few months ago to thank us for creating the brand and to tell us why. It’s been a huge help for her husband–he’s a cab driver and he really wants to become a limo driver. What he feels is really going to take him to that next level is if he dresses like a limo driver, wearing a suit or nice pants and shirt every day. She said they couldn’t afford that, but then they found us, so they bought every shirt on our site, and he loved it! That is where we find the inspiration to keep doing this. At the end of the day, there are guys who get the message.
I think every guy has a little bit of a Combatant Gentleman in them. The guys coming out of school and starting work, they all have a fire under their asses, they all want to get to where they want to go. But they have to be gentlemen about it! Elbowing people on the way to the top is not the way to do it.
For me personally, you can be artistic or what not, but you’ve got to have some kind of moral ground to bounce off of–kind of really find a root to what makes you create what you create.
We love a brand that really stands for something, with a team who’s striving to truly make a difference–and rocking out along the way–which is why we are so proud to have such an innovative and inspiring company as a client. This is just the beginning for Combat Gent.
Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.
Featured image via by Paige Hogan, TWF’s Graphic Design & Visual Media Intern.