- Facebook/Combatant Gentleman
The menswear startup Combatant Gentlemen gained a following among Wall Streeters and others for its balance of quality and low cost. Now, some customers say 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 its launch, some customers are fed up with the company, citing missed shipping dates and refunds that never arrived or were late.
The company – founded in 2012 by Vishaal Melwani, a former tailor who’s now the CEO; Mohit Melwani, his cousin; 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 items are priced considerably lower than those at comparable retailers – its shirts start at $44, while its suits cost about $320.
After launch, the company received positive coverage in publications including GQ and CNBC, and at one time, it was one of the preeminent brands at Goldman Sachs’ headquarters. It even landed a spot on Forbes’ list of America’s most-promising companies in 2015.
But all that growth has come at a cost to customers. According to five who spoke with Business Insider, 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 of these customers 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, preordered a Combatant Gentlemen weekender bag 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 canceled his order. He never received a refund, though the representative 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, priced at $110, currently has an estimated shipping date of July 30, according to its listing page.
- Facebook/Combatant Gentlemen
Other customers can be found complaining about missing orders and refunds on Twitter, Yelp, Google, Reddit, and numerous small menswear-focused forums.
Another customer, David Phillips, told Business Insider he ordered two suits, one of which he intended to wear for his wedding in June. The wedding suit’s shipping date was pushed back several times, and it 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 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 advance their customer-service issues, which he responds to personally.
“It’s not something I’m doing for fun or for PR,” Melwani told Business Insider. “It’s something I would do regardless of whether we had five customers or 5 million customers.”
Melwani told Business Insider that a third party processes refunds and that 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 rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Combatant Gentlemen also offers a selection of traditional suits, from $140 to $180, and tuxedos, at $200, targeted to grooms and groomsmen.
“Your wedding party’s orders will start to ship 1 month prior to your wedding,” the website says.
One customer, Joseph Kelly, told Business Insider that he and his party of seven groomsmen each ordered a suit from Combatant Gentlemen for his wedding this spring.
Shipping issues were almost immediately apparent. The day when the suits were supposed to be shipped and delivered came and passed, 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.
- Facebook/Combatant Gentleman
After reaching out to customer-service representatives multiple times, Kelly contacted Melwani to remedy the situation. Melwani promised a refund and a rush order for the suits.
The suits arrived in time, but Kelly’s was the wrong size, even though he had gone to the company’s store in Santa Monica, California, now closed, to be measured. He ended up having to go to a rival suit supplier days before his wedding.
The other groomsmen could wear their suits, except for one, who had 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 since received refunds, though they 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 he says told Combatant Gentlemen earlier this year, with little warning, that it would not able to fulfill an order for suits. 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 had 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.
- Facebook/Combat Gent
‘Scale is tough’
Melwani began Combatant Gentlemen with the idea that cheaper men’s clothing could be sold by using 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.
In 2015, the company had $10 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 scaling.
Melwani told Business Insider he was taking steps to ensure the company is less reliant on one factory to fulfill its orders, so it wouldn’t be as “blindsided” if one failed 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.”