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Combatant Gentlemen, the 'baller on a budget' menswear start-up, hammered by angry customers for botched orders

Key Points
  • Combatant Gentlemen has been hit by numerous complaints as wedding season hits its peak.
  • Problems have been mounting for months, with a few expectant grooms not receiving tuxedos for their weddings.
  • The company bills itself as a tech-savvy menswear company for budget-conscious 'ballers'
Source: Combat Gentlemen

Combatant Gentlemen, a technology-focused menswear start-up that developed a wide following for catering to "ballers on a budget," has apologized for a litany of customer service problems that prompted angry clients to publicly shame the company.

For at least several months, the start-up — which launched in 2012 to sell men's clothing for bargain prices online and via its mobile app — has taken a beating on social media. Irate customers have festooned Combatant Gentlemen's social media pages with angry complaints over lengthy shipment delays, or not getting what they ordered at all.

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On Friday, Combatant Gentlemen founder and CEO Vishaal Melwani was forced to acknowledge as much in an emotional letter he sent to customers.

Melwani, a University of California, Irvine graduate and the son of tailors who worked for Versace, wrote that his company has been "struggling to fulfill [its] mission." Combat Gent's woes have coincided with the peak of the summer wedding season — a time when grooms and groomsmen flock to the company to purchase tuxedos at reasonable prices.

"You may have seen the explanations  —  orders stuck on shipping containers, sizes out of stock, items backordered due to demand," the CEO wrote. "And while this all remains true, it really comes down to one thing: keeping up has proven incredibly difficult."

Trouble in 'baller' paradise?

From left, Scott Raio, Vishaal Melwani and Mohit Melwani of Combat Gentlemen
Source: Combat Gentlemen

Combat Gent sells modern suits, tuxedos and business casual attire, with suit prices that range between $140 and $200. The company's curated approach to selling menswear has invited comparisons to Netflix and Amazon, using on-demand applications that generate recommendations based on user preferences.

In a 2016 interview with CNBC, Melwani said the start-up viewed itself as "technology first and fashion second," for men who have an "innate need … to try and make money and still live a 'baller-esque' lifestyle." Combat Gent "tries to master fit and understand the guy from a data set," he added.

In an interview with Business Insider published on Friday, Melwani faulted a factory in China which abruptly told the company it would not be able to fill an order for suits — which caused a "bottleneck" throughout Combat Gent's entire supply chain.

"It literally sent shockwaves down us," Melwani told the publication. "When you scale fast, you have to be ready for the repercussions, and that's what we're learning."

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Yet those production troubles have left countless numbers of dissatisfied clients in its wake. The company's troubles became apparent in the spring, when a number of complaints surfaced on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and other platforms. Some complaints — which stretched back on Reddit to at least 2015 — ranged from clients that had placed small orders like an overnight bag, to others that claim to have spent thousands of dollars to outfit an entire wedding party.

The negative feedback loop forced the company to quietly sanitize its Instagram and Facebook pages this week, although CNBC managed to capture several images prior to them being erased.

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One of those irate users was Shaun Leeper, a 31-year-old entrepreneur who lives in Sacramento. On March 21, Leeper, who is getting married later this month, placed an order through Combat Gent for himself and eight other groomsmen. The company's website says wedding party orders usually ship a month prior to the wedding.

"We got way out in front of it because the last thing you want to deal with on your wedding day was worrying about what to wear," Leeper told CNBC in an interview. However, he received an incomplete shipment, and said he got the runaround from the company's representatives when he demanded answers.

After being assured by the company that the tuxedos would arrive by late June, the order was never fulfilled in its entirety. Finding himself in a bind, Leeper turned to Men's Wearhouse and ultimately canceled his shipment with Combat Gent.

Melwani wrote in his letter that the company was "taking action to make things right, and we have already begun taking the steps we need to improve: Adding new factories to meet demand and shorten turnaround, onboarding additional customer service representatives and implementing stronger communications and growth strategies."

He added: "Our team — myself included — is working around the clock to answer your messages and make sure you get your suits, tuxedos, shoes, bags and delayed orders as soon as possible."

Leeper, a millennial who runs his own consulting firm, fits squarely into Combat Gent's target demographic of aspirational male professionals. Yet he told CNBC that Melwani's mea culpa was cold comfort for the problems he endured ahead of a milestone occasion.

"There were a million points when they could have saved face but it was too late," Leeper told CNBC, vowing never to use the service again.

"I feel like I lost a year off my life stressing over it," he lamented. "I'm glad the CEO came out and publicly addressed what happened, but it's easy to do that after the fact."

Correction: An updated version of this story fixes the spelling of Shaun Leeper's name.