Sara Blakely is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. She is the founder and CEO of Spanx, a company that sells shapewear, leggings, swimwear and maternity wear for women and men. Spanx is valued at $1.2 billion and has customers in over 50 countries. But how did Blakely go from selling fax machines door-to-door to creating a global brand that revolutionized the fashion industry? Here is her inspiring story.
Blakely was born in Clearwater, Florida, in 1971. She graduated from Florida State University with a degree in communications and planned to become a lawyer. However, she failed the law school admission test and decided to pursue a different career path.
She took a job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where she worked for three months. She also tried her hand at stand-up comedy, but did not find much success. She then joined Danka, an office supply company, where she sold fax machines for seven years. She was good at sales and became a national sales trainer at the age of 25.
Blakely had an idea for a new product when she was 27 years old. She wanted to wear a pair of white pants to a party, but did not like how her underwear showed through them. She also did not like the look of pantyhose with open-toed shoes. She decided to cut off the feet of her pantyhose and wear them under her pants. She liked how they smoothed out her figure and eliminated panty lines, but they also rolled up her legs and were uncomfortable.
She realized that there was a gap in the market for a new type of undergarment that could offer both comfort and control. She spent two years and $5,000 of her savings to research and develop her idea. She drove to North Carolina, where most of the hosiery mills were located, and pitched her idea to several manufacturers. They all rejected her, saying that women would not buy such a product.
However, two weeks later, one of the mill owners called her back. He said that he had shown her prototype to his three daughters and they loved it. He agreed to help her produce her product, which she named Spanx.
Blakely then faced another challenge: how to market and sell her product. She did not have any connections or experience in the fashion industry. She decided to use her own skills and creativity to promote Spanx. She designed the packaging herself, using bright colors and catchy slogans. She wrote her own patent and trademark applications, using a textbook from Barnes & Noble. She cold-called buyers from department stores and convinced them to try Spanx. She even persuaded Oprah Winfrey to endorse Spanx on her show in 2000, which boosted the sales tremendously.
Blakely did not take any outside funding or debt to grow her business. She retained 100% ownership and control of Spanx. She also did not spend much on advertising or marketing, relying instead on word-of-mouth and celebrity endorsements. She expanded her product line to include different styles, colors and sizes of shapewear, as well as leggings, jeans, bras, men's underwear and more. She also launched a philanthropic initiative called The Sara Blakely Foundation, which supports women entrepreneurs around the world.
Today, Blakely is one of the most influential women in business. She has been named among Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world , Forbes' list of the world's most powerful women , and Britannica's list of 300 women who changed the world. She is also a minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks NBA team and a guest judge on Shark Tank. She is married to Jesse Itzler, an entrepreneur and author, and has four children with him.
Blakely's story is an example of how passion, perseverance and innovation can lead to success. She once said: "I did not have the most experience in the industry or the most money, but I cared the most."
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