Millionaire by 30: How Sara Blakeley Invented Spanx -- And Made Bank
So when I first heard about Spanx, all I could think was, Oh no, not another gotta-look-all-skinny-for-my-man underwear. Which is funny, because anyone who wears one knows full well that nothing about these things is attractive once the clothes are removed and you're just left standing there bare-Spanxed and all. (Just ask Gayle King, who recently did a spoof for Lady Gaga when she appeared for the interview like this.)
Women have even been advised to de-Spanx before a hook-up begins -- after all, these things are hard enough to remove without being all hot and sweaty. Add a few cocktails and one fumbling man to the mix, and you're likely to have a catastrophic event on your hands -- or butt, as the case may be.
When I used to watch my mom get dressed for a night out and shimmy her way into a girdle, I always found it interesting how every inch of fat spilled over the top and just laid there creating more bulges for the ones that just got hidden. Why don't you just lose some weight and do some sit-ups, I used to think. Surely that would have been easier.
For the last 11 years, Spanx has been making a killing in the marketplace from women of all shapes and sizes – and countries -- in search of a smaller butt, flatter abs and shapelier thighs. Not to mention a solution from the dreaded panty lines. But last year, after getting what-about-me comments from male counterparts, Spanx introduced its Man Spanx -- slimming underwear and undershirts made just for the guy who wants something to firm his chest, support his lower back, eliminate bulk under clothes and add cooling zones under his groin. Or so the packaging claims. (Can we be real, guys? Just fess up that you're as interested in concealing your beer belly as we are with our muffin tops.)
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, told MyDaily her own butt was the source of inspiration for her invention: "I didn't like the way it looked in white pants, and I couldn't find anything to work underneath them. So out of frustration, I cut the feet off my control top pantyhose one night to go to a party, but they rolled up my legs all night. My butt looked great though and I thought, I need to figure this out."
Blakely, now 40, worked on her idea in silence for an entire year without telling any family or friends. "An idea is the time when something is most vulnerable. I didn't want to tell anyone because if I got comments, it would rattle me," she said. "When you tell someone your idea, the ego has to get involved and then you spend time defending it and explaining it. I didn't want to do that."
Having never taken a business class and selling fax machines door-to-door at the time, Blakely set up shop in her one-bedroom apartment making her own prototypes of these footless pantyhose. "I didn't have any money to hire an attorney, so I went to Barnes and Noble to do research and wrote my own patent," she said.
"I had been doing a lot of visualization and mentally preparing for this moment and opportunity," Blakely explained. "I knew I wanted a different life for myself, and I asked for an idea to come to me that I could pursue on my own. I wanted to be self-employed, and I knew I could sell."
In the fall of 2000, Spanx was officially launched, and Blakely wrote in her journal that she wanted to make a million dollars in her first year.
Blakely's first mission was to get Neiman Marcus on board. "I got the buyer on the phone and told her I would jump on a plane and fly to Dallas if she would give me 10 minutes to show her my invention that will change the way women wear clothes." Five minutes into the presentation, Blakely stopped and dragged the buyer into the bathroom to try Spanx for herself. She immediately loved them and wanted them in seven of their stores right away.
Then she was summoned by Oprah.
During the first few weeks after launching Spanx, Blakely sent Oprah a gift basket with some samples. "I got a note two weeks later that I was going to be featured on her 'Favorite Things' show in 10 days," she said. With no employees and still operating out of her apartment, Blakely knew she had to jump at this opportunity. No one says no to Oprah, right?
"I was doing everything at the time," Blakely said. "I had semi-trucks pulling up twice a week with boxes of Spanx. I'm shipping and packing all night long. During the day I'm trying to sell, so it was very hectic. I didn't even have a website at the time. But then my product was shown to over seven million people on 'Oprah,' and everything just took off. That was a big one."
Blakely also recalled other "big ones," like the first time she walked into Neiman Marcus and saw Spanx sitting on the shelf between Donna Karan and Calvin Klein. And the time she sold out on QVC. "I got off air and realized I wasn't a one-hit wonder. This product had hit a nerve, the whole country was reacting, and women obviously wanted this," she said.
Eleven years, 20 countries and 200 products later, Blakely continues to expand -- including the new men's line, which sold out across the country. "We had a six-week waiting list," Blakely said. "I could never have expected that response."
One thing she did expect was that million dollars within a year.
"I wanted to do that by the age of 30, and I just made it happen," Blakely said in an earlier interview. "My brother told me, 'You gotta do something. This is a huge milestone!' So he took me to buy a flat-screen TV, and that's what I did with my first million!"
Girdle jokes aside, one would have to imagine that selling underwear comes with the occasional funny or awkward moment, and Blakely said she's had her share. Like the time she went over to England to launch Spanx in Europe. She got a chance to be on the BBC and tell viewers about Spanx. "I remember just looking at the host and saying, 'Well it's all about your fanny -- it lifts and separates your fanny.'" Obviously embarrassed, he replied, 'You mean 'bum'? I had no idea that fanny means vagina over there. I had just told all of England that this product lifts and separates your vagina."
This certainly isn't your mother's girdle anymore. Just ask my husband.
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