Combatant Gentlemen is a modern man's homage to elegant Savile Row tailoring, but with an extremely streamlined price point (its top-selling suit is just $160) and emerging technology at its core.
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Ahead of the company's recent expansion into footwear, PCMag took the train to Irvine, California, where Combat Gent opened its first brick-and-mortar store last year, to check out its RFID-enabled Magic Mirror.
The store, known as the Haberdashery, might look like an old-school, proper gentleman's outfitter but it's actually fully wired with IoT sensors. There are versions of the Magic Mirror inside each fitting room, as well as one on the showroom floor, so tailors can adjust the break of a trouser and chalk it up for alterations.
CEO Vishaal Melwani says Combat Gent installed Magic Mirrors because "We wanted to create something that offered no friction when we did offline sales."
"A lot of our guys are first-time suit buyers, and we know it can be a little intimidating," he said. With the mirror, the experience is "more about learning than shopping."
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Here's how it works: when a suit is hung up on a rail to the right, the two-way mirror takes information from the RFID tag on the suit and draws data from the main Combat Gent database. Digital information floats into eye-level view while you're admiring your dapper self in a suit. It offers a description of what you're wearing, as well as merchandising options like ties, shirts, belts, and other suitable accompaniments, from what other customers have purchased to items within the same color spectrum. See it in action below:
"We came up with the Magic Mirror concept in 2013, at a hackathon during VegasTech, hosted by Google and Zappos," explained Melwani. "We wanted to bring tech to offline in a way that wasn't corny or just tech for tech's sake."
But 31-year-old Melwani is not just a Silicon Valley geek; he's a third-generation tailor. He got his start finishing hems for his parents, who owned and operated the Gianni Versace franchises and boutiques on the West Coast, including the one at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The idea for Combat Gent was born after staying with a group of friends in Manhattan who didn't yet have the salary to build an adult wardrobe. Every morning, they'd meet in the kitchen and swap ties, shirts, and suits. The idea for affordable, millennial-friendly suiting was born.
Another inspiration was Ari Gold, the famously foul-mouthed, but sharply dressed Hollywood agent from HBO's Entourage. In a nice twist, the real-life Ari (Ari Emanuel) is now an investor in Combat Gent. Melwani, however, has taken in just $2.2 million in funding in a bid to avoid the start-up pitfalls of burning through VC funds and flaming out fast. Combat Gent has been profitable since 2013, he said.
Melwani opened up the mirror, which is powered by an Apple Mac mini. "We coded it using Ruby on Rails," he said. "It's a full Rails app, and collects data as people walk up, including how many times that particular suit has been out before it gets sold. It can also populate the main database when linked to the main purchasing platform. So you can try, purchase, and get it shipped to your place directly. The Magic Mirror is effectively a business intelligence and data-powered IoT device."
Does that mean Combat Gent is employing facial recognition so it knows when one of the King of Saudi Arabia's sons (he has 12) or another high-roller walks in?
"Funny enough," laughed Melwani, "the King of Saudi's kids would come in all the time to my parent's Versace franchise inside Caesar's Palace. They were always interested in 'What would work with what I already have?' which influenced me in building out Combat Gent. We employ color theory within our app across our product line, and take note of 18 types of skin tone to suggest flattering options. But yes, to your point, we are gathering information on the footsteps in this store to really understand our customers and how they view, and buy, our product."
The next version of the Magic Mirror will sport a touch screen and two-way video functionality, so customers can call an associate from the fitting room to get a different size or talk to their regular stylist via video chat (an option already available on its site).
"We instilled a tech-first component from day one at Combat Gent," said Melwani. "And we have twice as many software engineers as...fashion staffers on the payroll. It's a real data-science operation here, and that's how we will grow solidly and profitably, as our millennial audience stays with us for the long haul."
If you can't make it to Irvine, the Haberdashery can be found on the road at various pop-up shops, and will find another permanent home in Santa Monica next month. Or check them out online.
As for the clothes, "Our next suit collection, launching in July, is entirely built off business intelligence and machine learning, based on prior orders, taking into account style, textile, fit and other triggers, and forecasting what our customers need next," Melwani told PCMag. "For example, based on triangulating the data, we did a test of a three-piece slim fit Charcoal plaid suit with hacked pockets and it sold out within 72 hours. That really excited us. As a young company we wanted to be smart with our tech, to keep our supply chain running smoothly, have great sell-through rather than sitting on dead stock, and create the best communications with our customers."
Meanwhile, that new shoe line, dubbed Toecap (video above), is available now; look for sneakers in July.
The fashion industry dreams of this sort of efficiency. Combat Gent is definitely onto something. If you've even been to somewhere like Hardy Amies, no. 8 Savile Row, London, England, there's a hushed tone permeating the elegant surroundings, but it's not really welcoming. Combat Gent has managed to translate the elegance of men's suiting to an omnichannel experience, powered by business intelligence, wired with IoT sensor tech and fitted out for the future.