Shopping at Men's Warehouse is a bummer. That's the basic realization that led entrepreneur Vishaal Melwani and his brother Mo to found Combatant Gentlemen, an online retailer that hopes to corner the everyday suit market by selling something simple and aggressively priced. Rather than ruminating about aesthetics, the Melwanis, who grew up around tailors in their parents' 17 Versace boutiques, spent their company's early days talking to family contacts around the world in order to figure out exactly how efficiently and cost-effectively they could produce a suit. They found wool in Italy, cotton in Turkey and India, and a factory in China where they began training seamstresses.
"We are more focused on the supply chain than the brand's story," explains Vishaal Melwani. "The quality of the suits is comparable with a lot of the Hugo Boss stuff you can find in a department store for $800. The total cost of producing one of our suits is between $24 and $37 plus shipping and we're actually invested in factories abroad so we can be even more competitive about price."
Vishaal's honesty about production costs is a bit shocking – he says transparency is one of the services he wants to offer his savvy customers – but the numbers are even more surprising. Most run-of-the-mill suits from unknown or lesser labels cost at least $500, while Combatant Gentlemen sells its goods for $160. Vishaal explains the cost differential by pointing out that everyone in the clothing industry is always fussing about the art of tailoring and fabric choice, even though most companies work far from the cutting edge.
"I don't consider myself a designer because I make corporate essentials," says Vishaal. "We make stuff you need more than stuff you want. I'm not Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford – though I admire the hell out of those guys."
Vishaal explains that Combatant Gentlemen should be good news for great fashion houses. If men spend less on the suits they need for the office, they can splurge on outfits designed to make a statement. If a man needs four suits, Vishaal reasons, he can buy three from Combatant Gentlemen and then go get something elaborate and bespoke instead of buying off the rack at Macy's.
This idea would be just that, a good idea, if Vishaal's suits weren't well made enough to appeal to the sort of men who might take the initiative to go buy a bench-made suit. But Combatant Gentlemen suits are well sewn, constructed of at least 60 percent wool, and available in medium and thin fits. The suits are all black, grey, and navy. They're unapologetically middle of the road, but they look good, don't wrinkle easily, and never unravel.
It was apparently that commitment to quality – albeit middling rather than excellent quality – that attracted Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos.com, who has invested in Combatant Gentlemen. Now that the company is part of Hsieh's growing Las Vegas online retail empire, Vishaal says everything is looking up. The brand is on the verge of releasing a denim collection and its tie offerings grow by the day. Vishaal occasionally has to sit down behind a sewing machine to fill the ever increasing number of orders.
"I would cut off my arm to get to spend time in the Zegna factory," he says. "But I love what I do. [Suits from $160; combatgent.com]