You've heard of farm-to-table, but sheep-to-closet?

It sounds like a gimmick, but Irvine, California-based clothing company Combatant Gentlemen has built a business based on cutting out middlemen who take a sizable chunk out of apparel company margins. Founded in 2012 by third-generation tailors and cousins Vishaal and Mo Melwani, the online retailer sources wool from its own sheep farm in Italy and cotton from its own cotton fields in India.

By taking complete control over the supply chain, Combatant Gentlemen keeps its total production costs to between $24 and $37 per suit. The company sometimes refers to itself as the "Warby Parker of suiting" for the way it makes traditionally expensive products affordable. Its starting price for suits is just $160.

Also like Warby Parker, Combatant Gentlemen has experienced rapid growth in sales during its first three years in business. Revenue grew from $673,000 in 2012 to $4.4 million in 2013 and $10.1 million last year. Investors in the company--which raised $1.8 million in seed capital in 2013--include Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and venture capital firm Greycroft Partners.

One of the most interesting parts of Combatant Gentlemen's business model is how its online store uses proprietary technology to fit clothing. By asking for a customer's body mass index (height and weight), neck size and waist size, the company calculates which sizes will fit best for each style.

"If you're within a certain variance of a body mass index, it will give you your suit size," says co-founder and creative director Vishaal Melwani, adding that 96 percent of customers find a perfect fit every time. "They still have to get their pants hemmed and their sleeves lengthened or shortened, but  it's simple alterations that don't cost more than $20." In addition to suits, the company also makes sweaters, knits, chinos and denim, and furnishings including rugs, throw pillows and even scotch glasses.

From a design perspective, Combatant Gentlemen's suits are modernly styled and aimed at young men who can't afford brands like Tom Ford and Hugo Boss but whose only other options are retailers Jos. A. Bank, J.C. Penney and Men's Wearhouse. 

"The beginning of the brand ethos was to provide essentials for guys who were just getting to the workforce," Melwani says, adding that this target demographic represented a gaping hole in the market. 

"We said, 'Let's really go after this Millennial male who is success-driven and knows what quality garments are, and let's create something for this need.'"

One of the other ways in which Combatant Gentlemen is seeking to help address the needs of its customer base is through live online consultations. The company recently partnered with video chat service LiveNinja to connect online stylists with customers via real-time video chat.

"It helps guys with how to do alterations or how to speak to a tailor," Melwani says, adding that some customers will spend more than an hour with an online consultant. "It really doesn't feel like a waste of time to us because we're understanding our client better."

Among the business's main challenges are mastering the art of just-in-time manufacturing, where companies hold only a few days' worth of inventory at a time, and no-waste manufacturing.

"Those are things that we're working on day in and day out to really get our metrics and software up to par," Melwani says. "We're also trying to get the logistics of same-day delivery."

While managing operations is a key part of Melwani's role, he says design duties still take priority on a daily basis.

"My first job is creative director and my second job is CEO," he says. "Without the creative direction, the brand is nothing and there is no company."

Published on: Apr 28, 2015