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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sara Blakely: How She Built Spanx From the Ground Up

Sara Blakely

Sara Blakely transformed the way women think about not only shapewear but female entrepreneurship. She launched Spanx without advertising, marketing, outside funding, or even a business degree.
Blakely originally hoped to become an attorney, but after she scored poorly on the LSAT, she decided to audition for jobs at Walt Disney World. Blakely buckled Disney’s guests into rides for only three months before she became a door-to-door fax machine saleswoman for Danka - an office supply company. At 25, the company promoted her to a training role because Blakely had a knack for sales; however, she craved more out of her life. She didn’t want the doors slamming in her face anymore, and after a particularly rough day, she wrote in her journal, “I am going to create a product and sell it to millions of people.”

Blakely had to wear tights for her sales job, and truth be told, she just didn’t like them. She disliked how they felt in the hot Florida weather, and she also didn’t like how the toes looked. One thing did stand out to her, though—her body looked firmer in tights, plus her panty lines were gone. Shortly after this discovery, Blakely received an invitation to a private party, where she decided to perform an experiment. She cut the feet off the control-top pantyhose she was wearing under a pair of white slacks. Blakely was able to create a perfect “canvas” for her outfit; she didn’t even realize she had just created a multi-million dollar business.

A few years later, she decided to further develop this idea with only $5,000 from personal savings. She even used a textbook to learn how to write her own patent so that she could save on legal fees. She knew she needed to take additional steps to distribute her product, so she traveled to North Carolina to find a factory that was willing to manufacture her product. Numerous companies rejected her idea because they didn’t see potential - after all, she was merely a one-woman show. Fortunately, she was able to receive support from a mill operator who wanted to help her with her “crazy idea.” Now she just needed to be on department store shelves. She luckily secured the opportunity to meet with a buyer from Neiman Marcus. Shortly after these stores carried Spanx, other department stores decided to follow suit.

In its first year, Spanx made $4 million. In 2000, Oprah named Spanx one of her “favorite things,” which dramatically boosted sales. After this mention, Spanx’s revenue hit $10 million. Blakely also signed a contract with QVC and sold 8,000 pairs of Spanx in just six minutes. In 2012, at age 41, she became a billionaire.

In addition to shapewear, Spanx now offers activewear, apparel, denim, hosiery, intimates, leggings, maternity clothes, and swimwear. The company even started a men’s line! Now a mother of four, Sara Blakely runs the company’s day-to-day operations. Had Blakely passed her law exam, Spanx probably wouldn’t exist - she used her failed LSAT as a stepping stone for success. Today, Spanx products are wardrobe staples, and you can find them in more than 60 countries.

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