15 Questions with Combatant Gentlemen’s Vishaal Melwani

Combatant Gentlemen is raising the bar for more than just upwardly mobile Millennial men seeking a suit for an interview, date or wedding.

The “tech-first” fashion company also is creating authentic connections through content and strategically using algorithms and data to solve problems rather than just sell.

CEO, co-founder and Creative Director Vishaal Melwani spoke to digital retailers recently at the Shop.org Digital Experience Workshop about the company’s focus on data. After the event, we summed it up in 15 questions:   

Vishaal Melwani

Vishaal Melwani

How can retailers start making better use of customer data?

It comes down to two things: What are the goals? And how do we strategically mine for the information that matters most? Implementing data for the sake of doing so, especially if it doesn’t make sense for your business, only creates further problems.

What advice do you have for using content to create authentic connections?

Content is a slow and steady process, and as creators, we have to be invested in building that content for the audience, first and foremost. Resonate with the customer. Invest in the right people who care about bringing something else to the table. Understand that content doesn’t directly translate into revenue, and that’s OK.

What kind of data led to the opening of your first bricks-and-mortar store?

We pulled information from our customers who wanted physical stores. We analyzed past offline experiences, like temporary pop-up shops and traveling made-to-measures. And we looked at the company as a whole — where we’ve come from and where we’re going. We’ve grown a lot since launching in 2012, and we’re now ready to have permanent offline spaces. Omnichannel has been top-of-mind since day one, and now that we’re in year four, we’re super excited to continue creating that experience for our customers. Omnichannel is about bridging our online and offline experiences and delivering a tangible concept that is both enjoyable to the customer and thought-provoking to us. 

Quick Takes

The future of retail is … the omnichannel experience.

The thing many retailers don’t understand about Millennials is … they are invested in the “why” and “how.” They want to know about the product, and they want to know the story behind it.

The most important thing retailers can learn from a startup is … being nimble, embracing change, promoting from within and building on ideas in-house.

The last thing I bought online was … shoes.

I’m happiest when I … am designing the line.

My first job was … as a tailoring apprentice under my dad. He started me young. My first paying job, though, was at Spago in Las Vegas as the busboy.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be … working on building another great brand.

My favorite article of clothing is … my tweed herringbone blazer.

The next step for Combat Gent is … trekking our omnichannel journey and expanding at a rapid pace.

What part of the Combatant Gentlemen story can apply to larger retailers with more complex supply chains, or even those who have not been historically “tech-first?”

For large retailers who run on infrastructures that have been in place for years, it’s certainly challenging to turn everything on its head and expect immediate results. Jumping into the deep end will only create more havoc, so it really comes down to implementing change on a smaller scale. You can’t flip the switch overnight. You have to start mindfully, find that one data point or metric you want to fix and react slowly but surely.

As the company is still small, how will you maintain culture as you grow?

We invest in people. We care less about what looks good on paper and more about fit and potential. Everybody at Combatant Gentlemen has become an evangelist for the brand, and I think it really starts with us creating a close, familial culture. We might not have the ping pong tables or gourmet catered lunches, but we make sure voices are heard. I like to think we have a fun and welcoming environment, and we plan on fostering this type of culture our team wants to come to every day. That’s really big for us.

How has Combatant Gentlemen managed to attract the best tech talent (especially so many engineers)?

We’re at the forefront of retail and supply chain technology. We believe in pushing the limits, testing ideas, breaking things on the backend. And when you encourage that, you get a lot of people who want to join the team.

A lot of companies still refer to their tech teams as “IT guys,” and that has to change. They are engineers and developers. They orchestrate our backend platform, and they’re involved on every level of the company, from marketing and content to finance and production. We want our engineers to think outside the box, even if it means running into hurdles time and time again, and I think that alone attracts some of the best.

Want more digital retail insights? Don’t miss Retail’s Digital Summit from Shop.org, featuring brands such as JCPenney, The Container Store, Google, REI, Stitch Fix, Sephora and more, Sept. 26-28 in Dallas.