Shaping a Billion-Dollar Empire

Unique Global Influencers


How did the shapewear company “shape” the future success of this woman who once sold fax machines door-to-door? According to Spanx.com, Sara Blakely realized when preparing for a party one night that she didn’t have the right undergarment to provide a smooth look under her white pants. She proceeded to cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose, and the rest is history: Spanx products are now sold in 11,500 stores in 40 countries, and even after 18 years, distributors worldwide still fight to get on the stockist list.

Thanks to Spanx, Blakely was the youngest woman (at 41) to earn a spot on Forbes’ coveted billionaire’s list, and today she remains on the list, ranked at No. 2,124 with a net worth of $1.02 billion.

So how did Blakely, with her now 18-year-old brand, get to where she is today? How has she maintained Spanx’s success after almost two decades?

Embracing Failure

Blakely has shared that while she was growing up her father encouraged failure, and as a result she came to learn that “failure became about not trying, not the outcome.” When presenting her idea for Spanx to America’s hosiery mills, Blakely was turned away by all but one sales representative, who later called after positive feedback about the idea from his daughters.

Taking Risks

Blakely invested $5,000 of her own life savings in Spanx, researching and developing the product while also working a nine-to-five job. Most impressive of all, she initially handled all aspects of the business herself, including packaging, customer service, sales, PR, and marketing. After striking a deal with Neiman Marcus in 2000 and sending samples to Oprah Winfrey, the talk-show icon and media mogul named Spanx her favourite product of the year. From that point, according to Forbes, Spanx earned $4 million in its first year and $10 million the following year.

Thinking Outside the Box

Convinced Spanx shouldn’t be placed with hosiery in department stores, Blakely had to persuade sales associates to stock the product alongside women’s shoes and clothes. With that, Spanx ended up making shapewear its very own category in retail.

Constantly ‘Reshape’ Your Image

With recent trends towards women’s empowerment and body positivity, The New York Times noted in 2015 that Spanx’s branding needed to change with the times. The company now emphasizes products that have more to do with comfortably smoothing bumps and curves, and less to do with sculpting or shrinking bodies as it had before.

Not Limiting Offerings

The continued success of Spanx is due in part to the company’s expansion into swimwear, the introduction of products for men, and even activewear. When activewear sales leaped to 8% in 2014, shapewear declined by 3%, and Spanx took note, introducing new products like pants, tank tops and shorts.

Investing Beyond Business

Blakely strongly believes in giving back. She does so with her own Sara Blakely Foundation, which is devoting to “empowering underserved women and girls” by donating to various charities. Blakely also became the first self-made female billionaire to sign “The Giving Pledge,” promising to donate at least half of her wealth to charity.

With Spanx, Sara Blakely shows us that you can never get comfortable with your success. If you’re looking for continued success, you must continue to invest in your brand, and more importantly, in yourself.


Laura D’Angelo | Contributing Writer

Photo credit: Fortune Live Media


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