Gary Comer, who founded apparel and home goods catalog giant Lands’ End, died in Chicago on Oct. 4. Comer, who had been battling prostate cancer, was 78.
A former advertising copywriter, Comer started Lands’ End in 1963 as a supplier of sailboat racing gear and apparel. (The misplaced apostrophe was a typo in its first printed piece that the merchant couldn’t afford to correct and reprint.) By the mid 1970s, the company had shifted its focus to selling apparel via catalog. The catalog became renowned for its detailed benefit copy, provocative covers, and adventure stories.
Lands’ End moved from Chicago to Dodgeville, WI, in 1978, and went public in 1986. The company expanded significantly in the past 20 years, tapping international markets with the launch of its U.K. catalog in 1991, starting a corporate gifts division in 1992, and creating a Website in 1994. By the time Lands’ End was sold to Sears in May 2002, its sales had reached $1.57 billion. Although he stepped down as president in 1990, Comer remained chairman of the board and the majority stockholder until the sale.
Comer, who received more than half of the $1.9 billion cash price from selling Lands’ End, put the money to good use as a noted philanthropist and environmental advocate. Among his contributions, Comer and his wife Frances in 2001 donated $21 million to help build the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. And last year Comer and the Comer Science and Education Foundation donated $18 million to Columbia University in support of geochemistry research at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.