Sara Blakely talks to Marie Claire about creating the undergarment that works wonders for women
‘I cut the feet out of my control-top tights and they worked better than any undergarment I could buy,’ says Sara Blakely, who was 27 when she came up with the idea for Spanx.
‘I had a pair of unworn $98 white trousers in my wardrobe for eight months but couldn’t find anything to wear under them. I just kept thinking, there has to be something that fills this little void in fashion.’
From a young age Sara had created little businesses – from a lemonade stand on the beach to organizing children’s parties. ‘My dad made sure I learned the value of a dollar.’
After graduating from the University of Florida, Sara fell into a job selling fax machines from door-to-door until she came up with the idea for Spanx.
She kept the idea to herself, working on her designs at weekends and after work for a year. ‘I didn’t tell a single person. Not even my best friend. I‘d spend whole evenings in the library researching patterns and dreaming up names.’
Sara spent two years trying to convince hosiery manufacturers that her product was the missing link in women’s underwear. ‘I called them on the phone and they’d put me on hold, so I drove to the factories and made them listen.’
‘I had done so much cold-calling that the word ‘no’ didn’t even faze me,’ she says. ‘I knew that if I could sell a fax machine that I don’t like or care about, I could sell a product that I loved and believed in.’
Sara launched the business in October 2000 and in November Oprah Winfrey hailed Spanx her product of the year, causing sales to reach 30,000 in one month. Now 12 years old, the brand is available in 40 countries worldwide.
Sara set up the Sara Blakely Foundation in 2006, after winning a grant from Richard Branson, to help women who have the potential, but not the means, to start up a business.
‘I’ve always wanted to create my life, rather than just live it,’ says Sara. ‘I wanted to make a difference, but more importantly I wanted to make a difference for other women.’
Believe in yourself – Once you tell people your million-dollar idea you spend more time defending it than pursuing it. Invest time and energy is your idea before shouting it from the rooftop.
Trademark your business – The name ‘Spanx’ came to me when I was sat in a traffic jam. I scribbled it down on a scrap of paper in my car and as soon as I got home I trademarked it online for $150 (£95) with my credit card.
Know your pitch – You need to be able to explain your business to a customer in 30 seconds – Why you are different and what your purpose is. Practice on friends and family until it rolls off your tongue.
Push your product – I had no money to advertise when I started so I went on the road for two years and stood in department stores all day, every day. In 12 years we have never used advertising.
Sarah is launching the first UK Spanx website on April 18.