American Icon: Sara Blakely
Sara Blakely is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire businesswoman.
Her billion-dollar idea was hatched one evening when she was to attend a party, but wanted to look good in her new pair of pants. As an experiment, she cut out the feet of a pair of pantyhose and wore them under her pants. She loved the way they slimed her butt and legs, but disliked how they rolled up her legs.
This was the beginning of her crusade to create a new kind of undergarment - one that slims and controls. This was the beginning of Spanx.
Sara’s DIY Approach to Success
After graduating from college, Sara worked for a stationary company which required her to go door-to-door selling fax machines. From this job, she was able to save $5,000 that she would use to create her new product and start her company.
She traveled to North Carolina, where the majority of USA hosiery factories are located, and visited countless mills to pitch her idea. Most wouldn’t listen, but one mill owner called her back after receiving raving feedback from his daughters.
Sara then created the prototype, and tested it among her mother and friends. This type of testing on real people was unusual at the time, and provided valuable feedback on how to provide a better fit for different sized women.
Sara also choose to forgo paying for an expensive patent lawyer, and bought a book at Barnes & Noble, using this book to research and patent the idea herself.
The First Sale
When Sara landed a meeting with Neiman Marcus, she traveled to Dallas to meet with the sales team. During the meeting, she sensed that the sales woman’s interest was waning, so she took her into the bathroom and personally demonstrated the difference Spanx made under her outfit. The woman immediately decided to buy 3,000 pairs!
Shortly after that, Bloomingdales, Saks, and Bergdorf Goodman picked up the product.
In 2000, Sara sent a gift basket of her products to Oprah Winfrey. Oprah loved the undergarments so much she put them on her list of “Oprah’s Favorite Things”. This made the popularity of Spanx skyrocket, and soon celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, and Madonna were singing it’s praises.
Sara is committed to giving back and empowering women and young girls. She’s started the Sara Blakely Foundation and the Leg Up Program - both charities focus on helping women get entrepreneurial training, education and support.
She has also become the first female billionaire to join the “Giving Pledge” - a pledge started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates - that states that the world’s richest people will donate at least half of their earnings.
American Sunglass recognizes Sara Blakely for her incredible determination, creativity, and success, as well as her charity work that helps women achieve their dreams.