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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Young Female Entrepreneurs: Learning from Spanx’s Success

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, believes in the power of undergarments to shape a woman’s perception of herself. Spanx’s mission has grown from offering an effective solution to bulky underwear seams and bunching to acting as a lifesaver and self-esteem booster for millions of women. Learn the story behind the beloved shapewear brand and how it started.
Blakely’s incredible ambition and perseverance opened many doors for her, but as a young woman, she wasn’t very interested in entrepreneurship. Her lifelong dream was to become a lawyer like her father. However, her poor test-taking skills and resulting low LSAT score eventually compelled her to look elsewhere for career fulfillment. She struggled for years to find direction, turning to door-to-door sales to make a living. One day, she stumbled upon a common problem for which she developed a simple solution right in her bedroom.

In 2000, 27-year old Blakely was preparing for a party when she realized she didn’t have a slimming undergarment she could wear with her white pants. She snipped the bottoms off her control-top pantyhose, and that was the beginning of a product that would eventually make her one of the few female self-made billionaires in the world.

Blakely had just $5,000 in savings and an idea she believed in. She didn’t look for investors - instead, she approached hosiery businesses herself to promote her product and inquire about possible partnerships. Because of her early commitment to paving her own way, she still owns 100% of her company. Without a patent for her product, however, Blakely feared duplicates of her idea. So, with a book on patent law she bought from Barnes and Noble, she wrote her own patent for Spanx. She sold Spanx out of her Atlanta apartment herself, with no business model or employees to oversee production.

Two forces changed the trajectory of Blakely’s business: Oprah and a meeting with Neiman Marcus. Blakely tirelessly called buyers, waiting for hours to be put in touch with interested parties. Her grit eventually landed her a meeting with a buyer for the designer department store Neiman Marcus. Blakely tried on her product for the buyer to demonstrate the clear difference her compression design made in the look of the clothes. The buyer was convinced, and Spanx made its debut on store shelves shortly thereafter.

Ever the hustler, Blakely contacted every woman she knew to encourage them to buy her shapewear. Amazingly, her plan worked, and her buyer was shocked at how quickly women took to Spanx.

Enter Oprah. At this point, Blakely’s product was gaining traction, but it lacked the national attention that would have made it a retail sensation. Until, that is, Oprah featured Spanx on her 2000 “Favorite Things” list, erasing any doubt about Spanx’s viability and necessity in the fashion market.

Blakely’s lesson for young female entrepreneurs is to think differently about commonplace ideas. In her own words, “I did not have the most experience in the industry or the most money. But I cared the most.” Let your passion fuel your business, and you might end up on cover of Forbes magazine too.

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