By Sara Castellanos. Source: WSJ.
NEW YORK — Fashion startup Combatant Gentlemen is using heat maps, radio-frequency identification and proprietary software powered by machine learning to increase sales at its brick-and-mortar stores, the latest of which is a 350-square-foot space inside Bloomingdale’s SoHo.
Headquartered in California, the startup sources textiles from Italian mills and works with Chinese factories to produce and sell luxury menswear online and in stores at prices as low as $160 for wool suits, $30 for dress shirts and $450 for custom-tailored suits.
Backed by $2.2 million in investor funding, company executives said the firm is profitable but they declined to disclose revenue specifics. The four-year-old company has about 400,000 online customers to date, up by as much as 40% since July, and attributes its growth to its sourcing method and technology-focused mentality. Knitting together company activity is Tower, the company’s proprietary software platform.
“Human capital can be really expensive as a young company trying to scale, so we’ve tried to leverage technology,” said Vishaal Melwani, the startup’s co-founder and CEO.
Combat Gent, as the company is known, has been using cameras at its Santa Monica, Calif. store since July to gain insight into which merchandise customers flock to first. That information is analyzed by Combat Gent’s full-stack engineers, who create heat-maps that are used to help optimize merchandise layout at those stores.
For example, the company noticed that customers on the West Coast headed straight toward lightweight clothing that was originally situated at the back of the store. Company executives said sales skyrocketed when they switched the merchandise to the front of the store. Radio-frequency identification technology that tracks items of clothing has also helped Combat Gent determine what sizes people are trying on most.
Mr. Melwani said that data, combined with analytics from Tower, has been invaluable in the company’s growth.
“Being able to order, merchandise and buy properly is really important to the longevity of the brand,” Mr. Melwani said.
Combat Gent won’t be using heat-map cameras at its Bloomingdale’s outpost in SoHo, which debuted Friday, but it is using data gleaned from its stores in Santa Monica and Irvine to inform the layout and merchandise needed to stock the racks there.
Mr. Melwani, a third-generation tailor and a graduate of the University of California at Irvine, said his supply chain and “two-pronged sourcing method” is key in keeping prices low for the consumer.
Raw material is sourced from Italian mills and hand-tailored at manufacturing facilities in China. Many early-stage fashion brands will employ factories to both source and produce clothing, necessitating a production and design team of dozens, Mr. Melwani said.
Combat Gent’s design and production team consists of three employees, and the startup also employs 10 engineers.
The factories also have access to the Tower software, which helps factory employees predict when the startup will need more merchandise, and how much of it they’ll need.
“Instead of sending this order in every few months, we’re sending live-signaling to our factories in real-time,” Mr. Melwani said.
The company employs about 30 total and its menswear is also available at Bloomingdale’s locations in Orange County, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Chicago, in addition to SoHo.
Sharon Wax, senior vice president of concessions for Bloomingdale’s, said she’s excited about introducing the brand to consumers at Bloomingdale’s.
“This partnership appeals to our millennial customer who is looking for quality product with a modern sensibility at a fantastic price point,” she said in an email.
Mr. Melwani said the company plans to open stores in New York City and Chicago in 2017.