George Zimmer Menswear icon George Zimmer has redefined suit-buying, and hopes to help redefine the cannabis consumer

 

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There’s a fine line between looking average and looking excellent when it comes to formal attire. When men want to look impressive, whether it’s in the realm of the normal office environment, meeting clients or to look dapper for a date, a suit can make or break any situation. Men’s Wearhouse Founder, George Zimmer, knows all too well the power of a good suit. Zimmer found the expressive niche art of personalized suits a profitable industry and a fulfilling endeavor, for all parties concerned.

Zimmer founded Men’s Wearhouse in 1973 and 40 years later, he has opened over 1,200 stores across the United States and Canada. Instead of opting to hire an actor, Mr. Zimmer chose to be the commercial personality for Men’s Wearhouse, making his image synonymous with suit-buying in America. Zimmer drove Men’s Wearhouse from a small company into an international empire. Zimmer left his role as Executive Officer at the Men’s Wearhouse in 2013, collecting his holdings of the company which are estimated at $67.45 million. Zimmer owns 1.8 million shares of the Men’s Wearhouse stock which is 3.5 percent stake in the company. Last August, Zimmer told CNBC that he’s smoked cannabis on a regular basis for the last 50 years. Zimmer has publicly pushed for cannabis legalization several times in the past, even in non-election years.

Zimmer conceived his second brain child, zTailors on New Year’s Day, 2014. Zimmer launched zTailors publicly in June 2015 and Generation Tux in September 2015. Zimmer describes zTailors as traditional tailoring for the millennial consumer. Mr. Zimmer holds advisory roles in the company. Zimmer created Generation Tux to improve the experience of buying a tuxedo for weddings and prom events. Zimmer shared with CULTURE his insight into his entrepreneurship and how cannabis has played a role in his journey to success.

As a businessman, you have founded many companies over the years. What events led you to your very first foray into business? What was the name of the business?

Actually the first company I significantly founded was Men’s Wearhouse when I was 24 years old, but after I graduated from college, and before I founded Men’s Wearhouse, I got involved with some college friends who started a company called Fmali, which was the name of somebody’s cat. It went on over several generations to become The Good Earth Tea company, but I was long gone by then. I started Men’s Wearhouse in 1973. That really was the beginning of my business career. I used to say it was the beginning and end of my career, but that’s not true anymore.

You have worked in Men’s suits for quite some time. Do you have a personal interest in menswear; what is it that attracts you to that industry?

Other than lawsuits, I’m wearing right now a sport coat and slacks.

What attracted me to the business was very simple. I only had $7,000 in cash and very few business contacts, so at the age of 24, opening a clothing store was the only thing I could do. In fact, I didn’t even sell suits when we first opened. Just sport coats and slacks.

Do you always wear a suit? What’s your favorite item of clothing you wear regularly?

I don’t wear a suit every day. I don’t believe that most men should wear suits every day, but most men should wear suits probably more often than they do.

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You’ve said you have smoked cannabis regularly for 50 years. How did cannabis come into your life?

I’m a student of the ‘60s. It was troubling then. As my life unfolded, and I came to understand both experientially as well as intellectually, there’s far more damage done to the body by the drugs that are being legally promoted. Alcohol, cigarettes and pharmaceutical products—there’s far more damage from those, including deaths. Cannabis, interestingly, even in a state like Colorado, which has legalized as you know, traffic deaths are down. Crime, like domestic abuse, is down. Clearly there is an aspect of cannabis that leans towards nonviolence.

We’ve seen CEOs that are now willing to publicly show support for cannabis-related investment and legislation including Michael Bloomberg, Peter Lewis, Richard Branson, PayPal’s Peter Thiel and Facebook’s Sean Parker. How is it easier to open up about personal cannabis use nowadays?

It’s really not any easier, other than I live in California, as you know, it’s going to be on the ballot next year for responsible adult use, so I think the time is right.

You were the keynote speaker at the Cannabis World Congress & Expo in September. What do you have to say to young aspiring entrepreneurs?

Well, really what I told them was not to become entrepreneurs like their fathers. What we don’t need in the cannabis business is crony capitalism where people make decisions that only serve themselves and their friends. What they would make for a great example of the type of capitalism that the world would benefit from- is a form of cannabis distribution that respected the individual’s right to personally cultivate for personal use only and to have a fair taxation system so that the tax revenues will be earmarked by states and localities for public education, and not confiscated by the IRS for general federal purposes.

You donated $50,000 towards Proposition 19 in 2010. Why is supporting recreational cannabis important to you?

Many years ago, 30 to be exact, my mother died. At that time there was no medical marijuana. I simply said to her, “Why don’t you try marijuana?” She said, “Well, it’s illegal,” and got very irritated and did not try it. She died shortly thereafter. Fifteen years later, I was delighted to be involved in medical marijuana in California.

In 2010, a friend of mine literally put that proposition together. I really demonstrated solidarity with him. Even though he knew that most people thought it would be better presented during a presidential election year. So next year, during the presidential cycle, the responsible adult use act will be on the ballot in California.

Has smoking cannabis ever changed the way you’ve run an enterprise—for better or for worse?

I’m an alpha male, I’ve built a successful business and I consider myself competitive, sometimes to a fault. In my new company, Friday, I challenged anybody in my office to play a game of ping pong, and offered to pay anybody $100 for beating me. Well, only a competitive jerk does things like that. I think [cannabis] has softened that aspect of my personality. I think it belongs as an adjunct in some people’s lives. Not for children, but alcohol is not for children either.


Your method of corporate management has been described as cutting-edge and unique. For example in 2004, a spiritual advocate was nominated onto the Men’s Wearhouse board.  Can you tell us about your involvement with that decision and how it affected your business?

That would be Deepak Chopra. He and I were friends, then. I brought him on knowing that most of my board members didn’t know who he was, but feeling that capitalism needed a heart and a soul. That’s what I wanted him to bring to the table. Not to mention he’s a brilliant man. I was disappointed, to be candid, that it was during the disturbance that ultimately led to my termination. He was out of the country, but nonetheless went along with the board’s decision.

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Some business sectors suffer the consequences of the changing times. What makes a business survive through these technological changes?

I think that competition is fierce, so we need to bring a combination of high tech and high touch. We really need a hybrid model, in which we combine people with sophisticated technology, because one without the other doesn’t work as well, which is why we created Generation Tux and zTailors, which combines tailors with technology. In other words, renting tuxedos with the internet so that you never have to leave home. Right now if you rent the tuxedo in a store you make three trips. One to rent it, one to pick it up, and one to return it. If you do in online, you never have to leave your house, and if there is a tailoring adjustment needed, a tailor can be dispatched to your home, so that you don’t leave home until you get married.

You run your new enterprises differently than how you operated in the past. Can you tell us more about Generation Tux and zTailors?

I’d love to. The main business is Generation Tux, which of course is tuxedos. It’s very simply an online tuxedo rental business, although we do rent suits as well as tuxedos because so many weddings now involve suits. Most of the business is actually for weddings. Proms are next in importance. Because weddings are the main business, we actually target millennial weddings. What I think makes it very exciting is that in 1999, for a quarter of a century, after I opened the first Men’s Wearhouse, I brought tuxedo rentals inside Men’s Wearhouse stores and over 13 years grew into, quite successfully, into an enormous business, renting millions of tuxedos. Now, what I’m doing is replicating that business but doing it online instead of doing over 1,000 stores. The network in fact, if you will, that we live to create is that we have zTailors, which is a nationwide on-demand tailor service, in which tailors come to your home or office to do alterations. In the event that there are issues with the tuxedos that we rent, we have tailors around the United States that are able to go and make it right, including being available to be hired to attend actual weddings.

Instead of hiring an actor for the ad campaign at Men’s Wearhouse, you chose to take on the role of the video personality. How did you come to this idea?
It was pretty simple, actually. My team at the Men’s Wearhouse just asked me if I’d appear in the ads, and I said “of course.” Interestingly, the “I guarantee it” line was never scripted. I said it on the set while we were shooting, and it became iconic almost overnight.

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