Online haberdashery Combat Gent moves to Vegas and adds premium denim to its popular suiting collection

By Michael Carney , written on May 3, 2013

From The News Desk

It’s not uncommon in Los Angeles to hear someone pitch a premium menswear line. It’s becoming more common to hear that the line will be online only. All that commonness ends, however, when it comes to companies in these first two camps deciding to pack up shop and move to Las Vegas. But that’s exactly what one year old startup Combat Gent is doing, having been seduced by the promise of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. (Disclosure, Hsieh is an investor in PandoDaily).

“We were attracted to Vegas as we’ve seen the saturation in other garment districts, where labor is hard to come by and there’s a drastic polarization between the price and quality of a product,” co-founder and CEO Vishaal Melwani says.

Vishaal and his cousin and co-founder Mo Melwani have been in the garment business their whole lives, growing up in the back of family operated Versace boutiques, and learning about high fashion, customer service, and craftsmanship from a family of tailors and seamstresses. When the pair saw early online entrants to the men’s category like Indochino and Frank & Oak sacrifice quality and fit for ease of production and mass appeal, they recognized an opportunity and launched a professional and formal wear collection initially including suits, shirts, and ties.

The focus from the beginning was quality and attention to detail. Vishaal proudly bypassed the usual route of hiring a broker or trading firm, and spent weeks personally sourcing bullhorn buttons from Latin America and the best wools from Italy. Rather than asking a factory to create samples based on his sketches, he did so himself, creating handmade suits and subsequent patterns that could be mass produced without sacrificing quality.

At $160 for a suit, and just $25 and $16 for shirts and ties respectively, the original collection was a hit, especially on Wall Street where the company spread like a virus. First, the Combat Gent would receive single a visit and a single order of either a shirt or a suit from an investment bank (as verified by the IP address), Mo Melwani explains. Then that customer would typically return to place a much larger order and on the same day dozens more orders would be placed from within the same company. The pattern repeated itself from firm to firm.

The company reached a rate of 180 orders per day in March, marking its biggest month to date at $300,000 in revenue. With a return rate of just 4 percent and 78 percent average margins, Combat Gent looks like a rare unicorn among online fashion retailers that could turn into a sustainable, profitable business. The company also expanded its offering recently to accommodate weddings, offering the groom a free suit when four groomsman purchase their suits through the site. The company booked 78 weddings in the first six weeks.

With this early success, Combat Gent expanded its catalog, adding luggage and making preparations for today’s announcement of a premium denim collection. As part of the move to Las Vegas, the fashion etailer partnered with Stitch Factory, a Downtown Project co-working space that provides industrial machines, dress forms, and working tables for fashion businesses.

Like in the company’s other products, which I’ve tested personally and am a big fan of, the denim line focuses on quality and versatility. At launch, the line includes three fits (slim, straight-slim, and boot-cut), three different washes (light rinse, complete rinse, and light stone), and a wide variety of sizes. Melwani chose a handmade, tightly woven Japanese premium denim fabric that is cut and sewn on-demand in Las Vegas. Each pair will cost $60 with free ground shipping.

Melwani is not ready to talk about financing yet, saying that the company has been “friends and family bootstrapped” to date and that there are ongoing conversations about more formal outside financing. But Combat Gent’s relationship with Hsieh and the move to the desert are telling. Don’t be surprised if an announcement happens soon connecting the company to the Vegas Tech Fund.

As the company moves away from work wear and into the more casual end of a man’s wardrobe it will widen its addressable audience. At the same time, the company risks diluting its message and straying from the things that made it successful early. Denim is notoriously difficult and men, like women, can be extremely loyal once they find a brand that they like. This is a double edged sword for Combat Gent. If the company can garner the same rave reviews in denim as it did in suiting, then it could have a huge winner. Otherwise, it could be entering a costly and reputation-risking experiment.

As I wrote recently when covering the launch of casual wear competitor 20Jeans, “Unlike women, men have limited options for finding affordable fashions online...Given the low price points and the age old wisdom that men don’t make good fashion consumers, it would be easy to question the viability of [this] business.”

The difference with Combat Gent, is that unlike 20Jeans and most others in the space, it does not private label other designers’ products. By designing everything in house, the company controls quality, fit, and aesthetic. And because Vishaal can do this himself, he saves the expense of having to hire others to do the work for him.

Combat Gent is barely out of the starting blocks, and despite its impressive early success it still has a lot to prove in terms of sustainability and scalability. If the company can continue delivering the same level of quality and style at bargain prices, it has a chance to build an incredibly loyal audience. After all, it’s not just Wall Street traders who see life as combat. Men everywhere fight the battle of building a wardrobe that makes both their ego and their wallet happy.