#Inspiredbyher. Sara Blakely, the girl with the red pack that became the youngest self-made female billionaire
Some say that necessity is the mother of all inventions and this certainly is true for Sara Blakely, the woman that, according to her own statements, invented “the ugliest undies”. She is truly a self-made billionaire, investing her experience and the little money she saved-up from door-to-door selling into an idea that, for others, seemed just far-fetched. Determined to make it on her own, and convinced that she was on the right track, Blakely proved that everyone can become an entrepreneur.
You might have seen them on the Kardashians, on Beyoncé or you might have heard Oprah talking about them. It’s been said that they are a girl’s best kept secret. Spanx made Sara Blakely the youngest self-made female billionaire and her story reads like the script of a Hollywood movie starting with a woman wanting to look her best in a pair of white pants.
Thank God for cellulite
Sara Blakely talked over and over again about the moment that led to her great invention and the story starts with an elegantly dressed door-to-door saleswoman that wanted her clothes to fit better. Blakely said that she did not know what to wear underneath her white pants and loved the seamless look that pantyhose gave her but was annoyed by having to wear them in the hot weather. So she took a pair of scissors and cut them off. But they started to roll up her legs and that was the catalyst behind Spanx. In her own words, Blakely said, during an interview with Fortune Magazine, that she is the only woman she knows thankful for her cellulite.
“Don’t underestimate a woman who wants her butt to look better in white pants,” says Sara on her website, talking about where her idea came from.
The red backpack full of dreams
Blakely started to improve the product and used the money she saved up from selling fax machines to start her own brand. It was, from the start, a one woman operation trying to find manufacturers to produce the undergarment, get a patent and manage sales. Instead of focus groups and targeted marketing, Blakely relied on her own experience as a sales person to promote her business and keep things afloat. Her home became her HQ and even as manufacturers looked at the product with a raised eyebrow, she persevered.
Without the support of a company, Sara had no other choice than to employ a hands on approach to everything and this also meant studying patent law by night since she could not afford any lawyers.
In a red backpack she received from her mother, Blakely stored her products and her dreams of success. And the red backpack turned out to be a lucky one as Sara took it with her to the most important meeting of her career.
In an effort to get her products into stores, Sara flew over for a meeting at Neiman Marcus and when she saw that the client was losing interest she was not afraid to offer a true demonstrations for her product, in the bathroom. And it worked, since the company decided to showcase her products in seven cities. But Sara had another trick up her sleeve. She sent friends over into those cities to buy her brand and she reimbursed them.
The Oprah effect
Blakely was still working on her own when Oprah came calling wanting to add Spanx to her list of Favorite Things. It was an episode that landed a megaphone to a marketing campaign that worked mainly through word of mouth. Sara was just 27 at that time and soon after her feature, pictures in magazines started popping up with stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba and Madonna, all wearing Sara’s product.
At that time, Spanx didn’t even have a website, but during that year sales totalled $4 million. And Spanx became not only the name of Sara’s company, but also a word in its own right used by women to describe the seamless undies that gave them a polished look. Sara was well on her way to becoming a billionaire.
Blakely did not stop with the one product she originally designed but came up with new ones, all of them dedicated to empowering women by making them feel better about how they look. This need to help others, and women in particular, has pushed Sara to develop subsequent products like bodysuits, leggings, bras and even socks. And with a changing world and a changing culture, Spanx are now available even for men.
The Spanx revolution
Spanx is essentially a body shaper. These slimming intimates, worn under clothes, smoothen the silhouette and make one appear slimmer by using mild compression. Their seamlessness made them perfect for form-fitting clothes like pencil skirts, pants and sheath dresses.
Women that used them swear by them and some say they even wear their Spanx with everything because they give them the extra confidence they need. And the new products came as welcomed surprises for satisfied customers.
And while the idea came from necessity, the name took some work. Sara heard once that names with K in them sold better, so she opted for Spanks, but some customers found the name a little offensive. For humour’s sake, she changed the lettering and sold the products in red boxes.
Sara still retains 100% control over her company and Spanx has become known as a provider of the largest selection of slimming intimates, body shapers, hosiery, apparel, and offering the latest innovations in shapewear for men and women.
Paying it forward
Starting with her own experience, Sara Blakely sees her fortune as an opportunity to pay it forward. She wants to raise awareness about the need to support other women entrepreneurs and to that end she put up micro loans trying to give others the same chances she had. As she started her business with only $5,000 in the bank, she provides the same funding for women trying to get out of poverty. Working through Grameen America, Sara sees it as her duty to empower others to take control over their lives and provide a better future for their children and families.
“Women supporting women brings great karma and is good for the world, “says Sarah about her initiatives.
Questioned about her charitable work, Sara always responds with humour. “Since I was a little girl I have always known I would help women. In my wildest dreams I never thought I would have started with their butts. As it turns out, that was a great place to start!”