Combatant Gentlemen grew a following among Wall Streeters and others for its balance of quality and low cost.
- Now, some customers say that they haven’t received orders or refunds in the time frame promised by the company.
- CEO Vishaal Melwani blames the startup’s problems on growing too quickly.
But now, five years after launch, some customers are fed up with the company, citing missed ship dates and refunds that never arrived.
The company, which was founded in 2012 by former tailor Vishaal Melwani, his cousin Mohit Melwani, and Scott Raio, gained a following for its collection of menswear that was considered stylish and of decent quality for the price.
Combatant Gentlemen’s are priced considerably lower than other comparable retailers — their shirts start at $US44, while the suits cost about $US320.
After launch, the company received positive write-ups in publications from GQ to CNBC, and at one time, it was one of the most-shipped brands arriving to Goldman Sachs’ headquarters. It even landed a spot on Forbes’ list of America’s most promising companies in 2015.
But all of that growth has come at a cost to customers. According to accounts from five Combatant Gentlemen customers Business Insider has spoken with, shipments have been delayed without notice, status updates have been few and far between, and refunds have been difficult to obtain. These customers’ stories stretch as far back as 2014.
Several customers we spoke to had similar stories. They purchased products from Combatant Gentlemen and say they ended up waiting months for either the product itself, or a refund for an item they never received.
One customer, Mike Scherf, ordered a Combatant Gentlemen weekender bag on preorder on March 13 and was given an estimated delivery date of April 15. Several times over a period of months, that delivery date was pushed back by the startup’s customer-service personnel.
By the end of May, a Combatant Gentlemen customer-service representative said they couldn’t give a Scherf a definitive shipment date, so Scherf cancelled his order. He never received a refund, though the rep said it would come in the “next billing cycle,” Scherf told Business Insider. Scherf has filed a dispute with the bank that issued his debit card.
“There seems to be a pattern of them, at best, deceiving or, at worst, outright lying to customers,” Scherf said.
The weekender bag is priced at $US110. It currently has an estimated ship date of July 30, according to its listing page.
Other customers can be found complaining about missing orders and refunds on Twitter, Yelp, Google Reviews, Reddit, and numerous small menswear forums.
Another customer, David Phillips, told Business Insider that he ordered two suits, one of which he intended to wear for his wedding in June. The wedding suit’s ship date was pushed back several times, and ultimately never arrived, even though he had ordered it months before the wedding day. Phillips was forced to go to a competitor to get outfitted in time.
After reaching out to CEO Vishaal Melwani directly, Phillips was told he would get the suit the next day and was issued a refund, which didn’t arrive for two weeks. Still, the suit wasn’t shipped for nearly a month.
“I’m extremely annoyed by how much effort I’ve gone through to maybe get this suit,” Phillips said. “[I] wouldn’t suggest anybody order from Combatant Gent.”
Many customers reach out to Melwani to escalate their customer-service issues, which he responds to personally.
“It’s not something I’m doing for fun or for PR,” Melwani said to Business Insider. “It’s something I would do regardless of whether we had five customers or five million customers.”
Melwani told Business Insider that a third party processes refunds, and all Combatant Gentlemen does is begin the process immediately after a customer requests it.
“If it doesn’t show up, it has more to do with the billing cycle,” Melwani said.
Combatant Gentlemen currently has nine negative reviews and an “F” grade with the Better Business Bureau.
Wedding bell blues
Combatant Gentlemen also offers a selection of traditional suits ($US140-$US180) and tuxedos ($US200) targeted to grooms and groomsmen.
“Your wedding party’s orders will start to ship 1 month prior to your wedding,” the website promises.
One customer, Joseph Kelly, told Business Insider about his experience buying from Combatant Gentlemen for his wedding this past spring. He and his party of seven groomsmen each ordered suits for the wedding.
Shipping issues were almost immediately apparent. The day came and passed when the suits were supposed to be shipped and delivered, and it was only when some members of the wedding party reached out to Combatant Gentlemen’s customer service that they were informed there would be a delay.
After reaching out to customer service representatives multiple times, Kelly decided to contact Melwani to remedy the situation. Melwani promised a refund and a rush order for the suits.
The suits did end up arriving in time, but Kelly’s was the wrong size, even though he went into the company’s now-closed store in Santa Monica to be measured. He ended up having to go to a rival suit supplier just days before his wedding.
The other groomsmen were able to wear their suits, except for one who was forced to wear a different pair of pants.
“I don’t think they took the obligation of outfitting my wedding seriously after they collected our money,” Kelly said. “My father used to say that if the price of something was too good to be true, there’s a reason for it.”
Some in Kelly’s party have received refunds since, though it didn’t happen in the three to five days quoted by the company.
Melwani blames the most recent customer complaints on a factory in China that told Combatant Gentlemen, with little warning, that it would not able to fulfil an order for suits earlier this year. He says this caused a “bottleneck” throughout the entire company.
“It literally sent shockwaves down us,” Melwani said. “When you scale fast, you have to be ready for the repercussions, and that’s what we’re learning.”
He added that it’s been a “slow process getting it back up to 100%.”
Combatant Gentlemen manufactures its products in several factories in different parts of China, though its denim is made in Los Angeles. It sources materials from Italy, India, and Portugal.
‘Scale is tough’
Melwani began Combatant Gentlemen with the idea that cheaper men’s clothing could be sold if you used technology, vertical manufacturing, and a direct-to-consumer approach to lower costs. He touted concepts like machine learning, which could theoretically help the startup to understand customers better, and he drew upon clothes-making knowledge he had as a third-generation tailor.
As of 2015, the company was doing $US10 million in revenue, and it’s currently in “its largest growth year to date,” Melwani said.
But that success has led to what Melwani says is the startup’s current predicament: the challenge of scale.
Melwani told Business Insider that he is now taking steps to make sure that the company is less reliant on one factory to fulfil its orders, and is so less “blindsided” when one fails to keep up.
“Scale is tough,” Melwani said. “It hasn’t been easy. We’ve been grinding day in, day out to make sure everyone is taken care of as fast as possible.”