Sara Blakely Of Spanx
August 21, 2013 Leave a comment
Sara Blakely was 27, working for Danka , selling fax machines door-to-door when one day she had her ‘a-ha’ moment. She was going to a party and needed footless pantyhose to go with her outfit, so she cut the ‘feet’ off her pantyhose. And Bam! Problem solved! Somewhere in there, she’d been praying to ‘the universe’ to give her an idea that would help her make millions and touch people’s lives. She’d abandoned the idea, but when she was watching the Oprah show and heard Opera say that she too cut off the feet of her pantyhose, the spark was rekindled, almost as a confirmation that she should go ahead with her idea.
When Sara began to research undergarments for women and how they’d been made for the last 50 years, she was astonished. From the absurd sizing protocols (only one average waist measure was used on all the products, regardless of the size of the garment), to how products were tested (on manikins not real people), Sara saw that the undergarment industry needed a female perspective – insights from a real woman wearing these items to shape the product development direction so the products were useful, effective, and as comfortable as possible. She broke the mold, and developed a completely new approach to developing women’s undergarments.
Sara had only $5,000 in savings on that fateful day when she cut the feet off of her stockings in order to wear them under her white trousers for a more flattering look (and thus, realized the world needed a new undergarment product that would be comfortable yet flattering to the female form). From that $5,000 she embarked on designing a prototype, securing a manufacturer, naming the product, legally protecting it, and getting the word out to potential buyers.
She stayed at Danka, working 9 to 5, but spent her evenings and weekends meticulously researching pantyhose design and existing patents.
When the time came to try and get her prototype made, she’d drive back and forth from her home in Atlanta to North Carolina, where she got used to hearing “no” once more, this time from the owners of hosiery mills.Blakely called and visited one North Carolina hosiery mill after another, searching for a manufacturing partner who would make a prototype. She was rejected consistently, until one mill owner who had dismissed her idea summarily called back with some good news: he had told his daughters about her idea and they convinced him to help Blakely.
Blakely didn’t resign from her role at Danka until the age of 29, two years after she first conceived of the idea for Spanx. She learned to subsist on minimal sleep and kept her sideline gig from her colleagues, having early batches of her footless pantyhose delivered to her home while she was at her day job.
She didn’t turn in her resignation letter until she was absolutely sure her start-up was on the right track. She quit Danka and two and a half weeks later she was on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Blakely made her product to stand out in hosiery departments, her packaging would have to pop. So she eschewed traditional beige and white packaging for bright red.
Blakely spent two years visiting every department store that sold Spanx, rallying sales people by educating them about the product and teaching them how to sell it. Her footless hosiery invention revitalized an industry and answered the prayers of women who wanted to look better in all of their clothes.
Today Spanx is to slimming undergarments what Kleenex is to tissues: a brand that stands for the category.
Four Wall Street investment banks have separately valued Spanx at an average $1 billion, a sum Forbes corroborated with the help of industry analysts. Blakely owns 100% of the company, has zero debt, has never taken outside investment and hasn’t spent a nickel on advertising.At 41 she was the youngest woman to join World’s Billionaires list without help from a husband or an inheritance.