Female Disruptors: Terresa Zimmerman of WOOD Underwear On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Own it. Learn from it. Move on. When you hit walls, make mistakes, completely screw things up, etc. you have to admit it. You have to own it. No excuses. Excuses don’t teach you anything. Excuses are easy to see through and you just lose credibility with anyone you’re trying to convince, including yourself. BTW, blaming someone or something else is also just an excuse. Oh, and it’s a stressful way to live. It’s so much easier to just own it. However embarrassing it is in the moment, however hurtful, it’s better to gather yourself, be brave and own it. If you own it, you can learn from it. And then you can move on from it in a better way. I’ll remind you of my story about crying all the way from Portland to Seattle? I couldn’t be constructive in that moment but when I could I was clear about owning it, learning from it and moving on in a better way for it.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terresa Zimmerman, entrepreneur, author and advisor of business owners. Terresa traveled the world working on brand and strategy challenges with enterprises. The only female founder of a men’s underwear brand, Wood Underwear®, she discovered a love for Main Street, the small businesses fueling our communities. She co-authored best-selling, award-winning, Oh, Lords! with entrepreneur, Jes Averhart, host of Reinvention Road Trip® Podcast. And, she co-founded Sayhii with Amy Gurske, industrial psychologist and human guru.
Terresa is forever training for a run and trying to improve her golf game. She and husband, David, live in NC and VA, with Aussies, Whizkey, and Tequila. Find Terresa on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Complete accident. I landed where I am by being totally open and opportunistic. I could not have written my path. That’s been the fun of it. It also means I took some detours I might have avoided with a little more thought. I grew up in the western US. High school in southern California where my horse and gymkhana kept me out of the majority of teenage trouble. I spent my first year of college at University of Colorado Boulder where I studied little and skied a lot. But I needed to graduate, which I did from Santa Clara University. My Japanese teacher at SCU proactively told me she’d never recommend me for a job in Japan which lit a light bulb…wow, Japan? Yep. I went. Why not? For a couple of years. That started my globe trotting. I raised my hand, or it was raised for me for every ‘grand adventure’ assignment that crossed my path.
I was in Brussels, Belgium, when I started work for a creative agency and ended up within that family for a very long time. I loved consultancy. It fed my love of mental gymnastics and fast, important deadlines. What it didn’t do was give me any ‘ownership’, figuratively or literally. And as much as I wanted to be somewhere else and on to the next great thing in my younger years, I was gathering steam for a desire for depth in my life. I left corporate and started my own thing. I explored so many things before founding Wood Underwear®, a mens underwear brand. Wood came together with the encouragement of my husband and the need he pointed out that men have ‘nothing’. 10 years later, we are celebrating a Wood anniversary. The journey of a founder never ends…and start-ups are a bit addicting. Most recently that is with sayhii….which is so exciting for me personally because I get to go back to the world of technology.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I didn’t intend to be a disruptor so it’s kind of fun to be called one. There are a few things that I’m active with as a disruptor right now.
1) I’m the only female founder of a men’s underwear brand and company — Wood Underwear. We just turned 10 this year!
2) I just laid bare my life’s dating stories in an award winning, best selling book — Oh, Lords! — published last year with co-author Jes Averhart, a total badass in her own right. Through sharing our personal experiences, we aim to show women that they can have total agency over the relationships in their life. Women can and should take responsibility and authority over the relationships they have and over themselves.
3) Along with a brilliant co-founder, Amy Gurske, we are turning the whole employee engagement category on its head, with the advent this year of Sayhii — a woman founded, woman funded, woman led tech company. That’s a “unicorn” situation all by itself.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There are so many mistakes. All the time. I’m not sure I think my mistakes are funny, but I definitely try to find humor everywhere, mistakes included. That is a lesson itself.
When I was first starting with Wood, there was one conversation that was funny and incredibly life changing. During the holidays around New Year’s Day 2012 I sent a mass email to my entire contact list, in gmail, announcing Wood to everyone and telling them it was coming. One of the calls I received from that blast was from a high school friend. “What are you doing for 3PL?” he asks me. Well, uh, what is 3PL? I mean, I think I can spell it. After I told him my plans of breaking into the port and finding my underwear and driving it to a storage unit where I would begin life filling orders and driving to the post office he said, “you’re not doing that.” And there began my lesson in 3PL and outsource pick/pack services. So, I had the luxury of starting day 1 with fully scalable 3PL services….and not in jail for breaking into the port of Los Angeles.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
As a startup founder you lean on so many people, officially and not. Sometimes they don’t even know it.
About 5 months after I started Wood, I had set up trunk shows going up the west coast of the US from southern California and finishing in Seattle. After a San Francisco stop was Portland. I had underwear in my truck and a list of stores in my hand and I was walking into places asking the buyer if they wanted to ‘see my underwear’. On my way to one store, I spotted UnderU4Men — beautiful and with mens underwear in the window! Not on my list, but of course I walked in and asked to see the buyer. Eventually Steven, the owner, comes out and as I’m introducing myself he interrupts and says “I know who you are. Come with me.” Well, how does he know who I am? I didn’t even know I was stopping there. That’s the network in men’s underwear — someone I saw in SF called and talked to him about me and Wood. First, I was super flattered. Then, he heard my pitch and looked at my product and began a fairly comprehensive review of everything that was wrong with it. I thanked him and left. Packed myself up and cried all the way to Seattle.
But guess what. He was right about ALL of it. I spent the next 6 months changing and improving EVERYthing, from a new manufacturer, new packaging, new fabric, plus, plus, plus. That next January was the beginning of the line we have today.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
There are so many great examples of disruption, for sure. We can look at the good and the bad of it in one place — with retail. Stores. Across the US there are so many multi-generational stores. They have history and ‘place’ in their cities. The families that run them are pillars of their communities. They aren’t just running stores, they are building a legacy that goes beyond their store and family. It’s fantastic. I call it ‘main street’.
The negative disruptions to main street are the big guys, the predators that aren’t just happy pushing retail to innovate, they want them gone. And, for some of these big players, it’s a stated aim.
There has been good disruption for main street…finding a silver lining from our horrible year(s) with Covid. Stores were forced to think dramatically differently to save their businesses. It was life changing and beneficially disruptive in that they had to really dig in and figure out how to serve their customers where they were and how they wanted to be served…and do it proactively. The rapid innovation that happened on main street over the last couple of years is phenomenal and it will be everlasting. Having to compete raises the bar for everyone.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Focus on your WHY.
It’s cliché, but no less true. You have to have passion in what you are doing. It’s that passion that leads others to want to engage and be part of your endeavor, whatever that is. Never stop telling your ‘why’ story. My book, Oh, Lords! is one example. It’s personal. It’s real. And I knew I was going to write it 15 years before I did. Yep. I met my husband through a dating agency in 2006 when it was pretty unusual to do so. More unusual was getting no last name and no picture (gasp!) before agreeing to a ‘date’. My friends, while horrified were placated, sort of, when I told them whatever happened with the dates, it would be fun to meet some people and I planned to take notes and write a book. Perfect timing with my co-author, Jes Averhart, and Oh, Lords! was brought to life. We get to share, through our lived experiences, trial and error, our full belief that women can and should have agency over the relationships in their life.
Turtles can win.
You know the story of the tortoise and the hare? The tortoise runs his own race, mindful of the goal, with full focus on getting there. In so many things, it’s a game of perseverance. Passion too helps you stick to it when the going gets tough. The going always gets tough at some point. And sometimes, it’s the one who perseveres that gets the contract. I go to men’s apparel trade shows a few times a year and when I started going to these shows, no buyer wanted to talk to the newbie. They want to see you ‘last’ for a few seasons before they’ll stop and give you a look. Well how the heck are you supposed to make it to the next season if no one talks to you in the season you’re in? I can’t tell you how many new brands show up each season. I can tell you that 4 out of 5 of them never show up again. It’s pretty tough. You have to be the tortoise.
Own it. Learn from it. Move on.
When you hit walls, make mistakes, completely screw things up, etc. you have to admit it. You have to own it. No excuses. Excuses don’t teach you anything. Excuses are easy to see through and you just lose credibility with anyone you’re trying to convince, including yourself. BTW, blaming someone or something else is also just an excuse. Oh, and it’s a stressful way to live. It’s so much easier to just own it. However embarrassing it is in the moment, however hurtful, it’s better to gather yourself, be brave and own it. If you own it, you can learn from it. And then you can move on from it in a better way. I’ll remind you of my story about crying all the way from Portland to Seattle? I couldn’t be constructive in that moment but when I could I was clear about owning it, learning from it and moving on in a better way for it.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Oh, I’m already on my way to shaking things up with sayhii. Sayhii looks at employee engagement from a completely different place. Most engagement work is about the company trying to figure out how to get employees to do and be and think what the company wants. Sayhii flips that on its head and goes straight to the employee to activate them on what they care about, what their needs are and where they need or want to be challenged, which absolutely benefits the company. It’s just a totally opposite perspective from the current. We’re proving the model. It’s fantastic.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Being taken seriously. And maybe even taking yourself seriously.
“Good luck on your little hobby.” Parting words from a customer I met at a trunk show at a resort boutique after we’d had what I thought was an okay conversation about my brand and business. How incredibly condescending. My first thought? “What an ass!”
My second thought, “what did I say, how did I come across, that that was his takeaway?” I can’t control what he said or thought but I could certainly control my reaction to it. I chose to take it as an opportunity to review my messaging, and ask if I was taking myself seriously. I decided to up-level both my thinking and confidence in what I was doing. He was still an ass.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I saw a TedTalk by a monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, on how to be happy. It’s amazing. I think of it often. It gives me pause on days that are stressful and also on days where I’m not really on any deadlines and need a little focus. It’s a multi purpose-message — personal, business, life.
Any founder goes through ups and downs. Days you don’t know what to do with yourself or don’t know if you’ve chosen the right thing to do that day. Any setback gives you an opportunity to learn something. To see it as an opportunity.
I’m already an optimist, and Brother Steindl-Rast gives me a framework to think about it and ground myself in optimism productively.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Shop Local! Support your stores on “main street”. Main Street is the lifeblood of our communities and neighborhoods. Buy from them. Forget Amazon. They aren’t the best price anyway. And their convenience comes at a cost to our local cultures. Think about it, who goes to visit a new town, on vacation or driving through, to visit the big box store or the amazon warehouse. No. You go to the local stores. The boutiques. The local restaurants and bars and coffee shops. You want to experience the local vibe and flavor. Hard truth?! This includes your town too. If you don’t support your local stores and businesses, they die. Then what happens to your community? It becomes soul-less. Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so. There are a lot of towns out there that feel the “sell-out” repercussions. They aren’t the ones anyone talks about or visits. Here’s the good stuff: your local stores will offer you service like no other. Just ask them. Curb side? Personal shopping? Local delivery? Reminders of special events? Special orders? Yes. Yes. Yes. Will it cost you more money? Surprisingly, very likely not. Will it cost you some extra thought — yes. And that’s a good thing. You’ll be living with some intention.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh, that’s easy, my favorite life lesson quote: “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.” It’s really a daily mantra and guide for my priorities. I always ‘know’ I can do everything. But it isn’t the most productive use of my time. Others may be more equipped, time, expertise, etc to handle whatever it is most efficiently. This mantra helps me think about how I’m using the experts around me and whether I’m doing right by them as well.
This is super silly, but a very real and current example. I just received 1800 images of my fall and spring collection. They have to be gone through, selections made, polishing done, sizing, cropping, etc for a variety of uses. I would love to do this myself. And, in fact, I spent about 4 hours starting to do this the other night. Note, I’m not an expert at this stuff. I have experts on hand. And, instead of doing some work on contracts that only I can do in this particular instance, I’m spending time on images. Avoidance? Yes, probably. Also, excitement over getting the images. In any case…can I do it? Yes. Should I? No.
Super useful. And it’s been in my life for at least a decade.
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn: Terresa Christenson Zimmerman
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Female Disruptors: Terresa Zimmerman of WOOD Underwear On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.