On April 18th, the Skandalaris Center had the honor of hosting an Innovation Conversation with George Zimmer, a WashU alum and founder of Men’s Wearhouse and Generation Tux. Students, faculty, staff, and community members joined us for the event, each receiving a copy of Zimmer’s memoire “I Guarantee It: The Untold Story Behind the Founder of Men’s Wearhouse.”
George graduated from Washington University in 1970 with a degree in economics and a vague understanding that he would “probably go into business.” In 1973, at the age of 24, he founded Men’s Wearhouse in Houston, Texas. “I had $7,000 and no idea what I was doing!” Zimmer exclaimed to the audience. When asked if he had always had a passion for fashion when he started the business, he replied, “I don’t think I had ever been in a department store without my mom. But I did develop a passion for fashion and now I can see that my tie goes with my suit. Twenty-four year old me could not.”
He went on to explain, “Style is visual – it is not up to the brain. Develop your style by developing your eyes.” When asked to describe the power of a suit, Zimmer replied, “People will always treat you better. This means getting a better table at a restaurant and people finding you more attractive.”
Zimmer also discussed his business philosophy and belief in “conscious/stakeholder capitalism” – where investors are the least important stakeholders behind the employees and customers. When asked about his personal philosophy, George replied succinctly, “To reduce income inequality.” You can read more about George’s business philosophy in his own words here.
The discussion then turned to Generation Tux, the company Zimmer founded in 2014 after being fired from Men’s Wearhouse. While most people might look forward to retirement in their mid-sixties, George knew he wouldn’t embrace the retirement lifestyle and instead decided to take his experience in men’s fashion and put a new spin on the industry. An audience member asked Zimmer why he wanted to start an online suit rental business, and he exclaimed, “Because weddings will never go away! We typically rent to groups of 6+, which means each ticket is about $1,000. Taxes are our highest expense, not staffing.”
II Luscri, Skandalaris Center Managing Director and Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, closed out the Q&A by asking George what advice he would give young entrepreneurs, particularly the seniors getting ready to graduate in just a few short weeks. “Don’t do what I did!” Zimmer said, chuckling. “Find a job that trains you and allows you to save money. Build your startups after work and during the weekends. You’ll know when it’s time to go full-time with it.”