Spanx - The Pair of Pantyhose That Changed Her Story
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Sara Blakely’s story depicts it the best!
First introduced in 1998, the story of Spanx and Sara Blakely took the world of business by a storm. For Blakely, it all began with the simple need for a fitted pair of white pants that could also be worn with a pair of sandals.
Interestingly, it didn’t take Sara Berkley too long to realize that a simple cut of the heel would eventually lead to the invention of what we today know as Spanx.
In just a matter of years, Berkeley’s company took off in the business world with the aim of becoming one of the fastest-growing, multi-million brands worldwide. Voted one of Time’s 100 most influential people, Sara Blakely is the epitome of a self-made billionaire whose company operates in staggering 50 countries worldwide, providing women with the self-confidence and support they require.
Far from the purpose of creating fitted bodywear, Spanx enjoys a reputation of an intelligent brand on a clear quest to redefine what comfort means to women of the world. Talk about making it in the big league!
But, how did it all come to be?
Let’s dig deeper into Sara Blakely’s success timeline and the pair of scissors that changed undergarment history - and HerStory - for good! Read the story here:
Sara’s Humble Beginnings
Born in 1971, in the small town of Clearwater, Florida, Sara Brekley was a little girl with big dreams for the future. Initially, Berkeley intended to follow in her father’s footsteps and become an attorney, before abandoning the idea altogether, following a double low score on the Law Admission Test.
After bombing the LSATs twice, Sara opted to take the job of ‘Goofy’ in Disney World. While waiting for her audition opening, Sara wasted no time and found another job at the Epcot theme park.
Eventually, Berkley was able to audition for the role of Goofy, but unfortunately, the company deemed her too short for the role and instead, offered her the role of a chipmunk. On top of that, Sara was asked to wait before her position became fully available, so she put her space suit back on and went back to ushering people on Epcot rides.
After a while, the happiest place on Earth didn’t seem so happy anymore, at least not to Sara, and this unfulfillment ultimately drove her to quit her job and move back in with her mother.
Although she had no sense of direction and was left with a bitter taste in her mouth, Sara had no intention of giving up on her dreams. Instead, she pushed forward and scored a job at Danka, a local company that sold fax machines, and door-to-door, too. It wasn’t the best of jobs, of course- working on an eight-to-five schedule and having plenty of infuriated clients to deal with- but Sara knew better days were to come.
When Necessity Births Invention
Despite the intense work conditions, Sara had a very clear sense of turning misfortune into opportunities. So, instead of taking everything to heart, she grew immune to the word ‘no’. Not only that, but her unfortunate circumstances led her to reconsider her career path and ambitions, and figure out a way to make the most of her business strengths.
As a lover of all-things sales, Sara knew she had a natural knack for the job. The truth is, selling fax machines was not exciting to her at all. But then, on the other hand, having her own product to sell sounded like a dream come true.
In the most ordinary of moments, it was actually Sara’s calling that found her rather than the other way around. One night, in 1998, Sara was getting ready for a party out in town. She decided to sharpen her look for the night and wear a pair of cream colored pants that exposed no panty lines or created additional creases. In the lack of a better solution, an idea was suddenly born. What if, Sara thought, I cut the foot of the pentyhose and step outside looking more fabulous than ever?
Then it dawned on her: the groundbreaking idea of what she was supposed to do and sell - and it had Spanx’s name written all over it!
With a plan in mind and at the age of 27, Sara invested her $5000 in savings and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, driven to find hosiery mills to help bring her idea to life. Her search turned fruitless for several months, and the struggle was real, but Sara had her eyes on the prize and the unshaken determination to make it!
Instead of crying over her poor fortune, she decided to shift her focus and legally patent her idea. In searching for the best attorneys to help her with the project, Sara discovered a lack of female patent attorneys in Georgia, where she initially wanted to kick off her product. Later on, this deficit in the female business force would serve as the catalyst for her mission to empower women to pursue education and entrepreneurial training.
While meeting up with attorneys and searching for hosiery mills to collaborate with, Sara continued working at Danka. She relied on nights off and weekends to elaborate her idea and perfect it, too, whilst still keeping her product a secret from everyone she knew.
A few weeks later, Sara finally got the call she was waiting for. Namely, a mill owner she reached out to had a sudden change of heart, after his daughter convinced them Sara was onto something great, and was deserving of their help.
Just like that, Spanx was ready to happen!
Spanx, with a K
While Sara was working on her product with the mill owner, she learned the tricks and tips that make pantyhoses for women a successful product to market. Among other things, she learned that the waistband is the same for small and extra-large sizes, and that a small rubber cord on the inside of a plastic model is used to predetermine the fits she needed.
Appalled that these products were made for women without an actual input from women, Sara decided to change the game and replaced the plastic doll with real women; women within her family and friends’ circle.
Slowly but surely, everything fell into place and after all hardships, Spanx was ready for a launch. Before the name was officialized, Sara considered using a K to spell her product, already knowing that big brand names, like Coca Cola and Kodak do the same. However, Sara also learned that short and to-the-point names have a more natural ring to them, so she ultimately gave up on the idea of Spanks and introduced Spanx as an official product.
In 2000, the brand was born and launched, ultimately taking Sara exactly two whole years to put her vision to practice. The company first launched from Sara’s apartment and the initial sales numbers showed solid progress. Even so, Sara wanted to expand her business to department stores, therefore, she targeted a buyer from Neiman Marcus, and in the most unorthodox of ways, too.
In her light-hearted and humorous nature, Sara delivered the buyer a single stiletto shoe along with a note, saying:
“I’m just trying to put my foot in the door. Can I have ten minutes of your time?”
And in the ten minutes she got, Sara successfully pitched and sold her idea to all representatives attending the meeting.
Spanx hit the Neiman Marcus stores packed in red and boasting a very catchy tagline, ‘We got your butt covered’, thus making its first step towards recognition.In no time, stores like Bloomingdales, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman also took interest in the product and Spanx became an overnight global sensation!
Finally, Sara quit her position at Danka and focused on further developing the kind of product that’s worth the sale. Amazingly, in the first year since its launch, Spanx earned $4 million in sales, followed up with $10 million in earrings during its second year on the market.
Spanx in the Modern Business World
Today, Spanx counts as one of the most popular household brands in shapewear and in general. Representing what Kleenex is to tissues, Spanx has ventured into many other underwear subbranches, such as bras, maternity underwear, men’s undergarments - humorously called Manx - and even body-fitting denim. Today there’s not a woman that doesn’t wear Spanx, and proudly at that- from celebrity host Oprah, to actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow and former First Lady Michele Obama.
The fame that the brand enjoys has opened up many doors for Sara Blakely, ultimately leading her to worldwide recognition and success.
But more than just being the face behind the product, it is Sara Berkley’s mission - to give back to women and empower them to pursue their dreams - that eagerly lives on.