Guys are furious with the promising menswear company after experiencing massive delays.
Combatant Gentlemen launched in 2012 promising the holy grail of menswear: a quality suit for as little as $140. Since then the company’s grown quickly: In 2015 it made Forbes’ list of America’s Most Promising Companies after posting $10.1 million in revenue. The brand’s CEO, Vishaal Melwani, tells me, “We didn’t expect…last year this year; this growth is the highest growth we’ve ever seen.” But recently a slew of angry customers have cropped up online, claiming that the company’s failed to deliver on their orders. On Reddit you can find dozens of burnt customers; another unsatisfied buyer on Yelp is threatening a class-action lawsuit; and—most damningly—Combatant Gentlemen currently has a grade of F from the Better Business Bureau. Almost all of complaints stem from orders that were never delivered or delivered long after the promised dates (there are plenty of pissed-off grooms and groomsmen), and many include tales of horrible communication from the company.
Scattered complaints about the brand have been swelling for several years across these different platforms, but the wailing crescendoed last week when one disgruntled customer posted to Reddit: “It has been 229 days since my wife ordered me a bag on Combatant Gentlemen.” Chris G. claims he placed an order for the bag in late November and waited almost eight months before finally cancelling his order and demanding a refund—one he claims he still hasn’t received a week later. Quickly the post became a meeting ground for other aggrieved Combatant Gentlemen customers. “The worst shopping experience of my life,” wrote user BCkcmo. Another joked that a suit he ordered for a friend’s wedding was so heavily delayed that “maybe I can wear the suit to the christening of the child yet to be conceived by my recently married friends.” Prince_Uncharming wrote that problems are “so widespread that it’s just a business decision at this point.”
Combatant Gentlemen was founded on the idea that there was “a gaping hole in the affordable menswear market,” according to a post Melwani wrote on Reddit in 2015. The brand touted itself as the “Warby Parker for suiting” and aimed to reduce customer costs by controlling everything from the supply chain to the sale and shipment of its products. At one point, it had its own sheep field in Italy and a cotton field in India. According to a 2015 Inc. article, these strategies allowed Combatant Gentlemen to get production costs down to somewhere between $24 and $37 per suit—with the goal to pass savings on to the customer.
David Phillips tells GQ that he bought two suits in March, which he hoped to wear to a friend’s wedding in late May and to his own ceremony in June. He started to panic in May when he still hadn’t received the suit, and says he reached out to customer service, which he claims told him that his suits would ship soon—certainly in time for his friend’s wedding. Finally, he went with his backup plan before the May wedding and ended up purchasing a Men’s Wearhouse suit he wore to both weddings. He’s still waiting on his Combatant Gentlemen suit to be delivered (a UPS tracking number Phillips showed me says it should arrive Monday, July 17).
Joseph Kelly tells me that he and his friends placed a group order with Combatant Gentlemen in the hopes of wearing the suits to his wedding. Combatant Gentlemen’s wedding deal guaranteed delivery a month in advance of the big day—Kelly was getting married on July 1. Kelly says he endured a lengthy back-and-forth with two separate customer-service reps as well as Melwani. (The aggregated e-mail threads, sent to GQ, make for a 29-page PDF.) “I had to involve my friend who is a lawyer to ensure that all 7 of us in our party got a refund,” Kelly tells me over e-mail. He finally received his suits on June 21.
Combatant Gentlemen Defends Itself
Combatant Gentlemen has faced delivery issues for a while now, and Melwani has tried to maintain some transparency, as this extensive AMA with Redditors from 2015—when issues with service and delays first popped up—shows. And in several of the e-mail correspondences shared with me by ticked-off customers, either Vishaal Melwani or Mo Melwani, Vishaal’s cousin and co-founder, has communicated directly in hopes of helping.
In a statement posted to Medium this morning after GQ reached out to the company for comment on the burgeoning complaints, Vishaal Melwani attributed Combatant Gentlemen’s ails to scaling issues. He writes that the company is contracting more factories and hiring customer-service representatives. Most of the problems started, Melwani tells me, when a Chinese factory the company worked with failed to deliver suits for the brand’s wedding season, creating a domino effect of late shipments.
Melwani also writes that Combatant Gentlemen is currently subjecting four different factories to “stress-testing,” a process that gauges their speed, quality of product, safety, and cleanliness. The brand currently only works with two suiting factories and hopes to double that number—one major factory and three that can handle additional orders, writes Melwani.
Melwani also tells me that in the past three weeks, Combatant Gentlemen has hired nine customer-service reps—a mix of full-time, part-time, and overnight employees that brings the company’s total to 22. Melwani says he wants to get that to somewhere between 25 and 30 representatives within the next few months.
Looking at shipping schedules, Melwani says that Combatant Gentlemen is sending out wedding orders within the next week and will be caught up at that point. This language frustrates customers like Joseph Kelly, who was told by customer-service agents—in e-mails that I’ve seen—that the suits for his wedding party “would begin shipping tomorrow” and would all be out the door in the next two days. “On Monday, I was told my order would ship on Tuesday. Today, I was told it would ship today. Now, I’m told it will ship tomorrow. Which one is it?” Kelly wrote to a customer-service rep.
When I pressed Melwani on whether or not service agents are giving shortened timelines to placate frustrated customers, he admits, “We’re looking through it ourselves and trying to understand.”
Is the $140 Suit Sustainable?
During the Reddit debacle, as complaints piled up, some posters opined that with suit prices so low, you “get what you pay for” and that the deal “was too good to be true.” And it is unfortunate that Combatant Gentlemen has received so many complaints, because a cheap suit that’s of decent quality is certainly something we at GQ would like to get behind. (Full disclosure, GQ has covered the company, and Combatant Gentlemen has run ads on GQ.com).
Combatant Gentlemen’s issues raise a broader question about the sustainability of the hyper-affordable suit. Adding production time on factory lines and customer-service agents costs money, which needs to be supported by revenue. Is a $140 suit, or even a $250 suit, made to order, actually feasible? When I ask Melwani if he envisions raising prices to offset the cost of the new factories and hires, he says Combatant Gentlemen has no plans to do so. “We don’t foresee that needing to happen,” he says. “This shouldn’t affect the margin and the bottom line.” The company’s customers hope it affects how fast they get their suits, of course—and that the $140 suit isn’t just a broken promise.