Founder of Spanx, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist
If Sara Blakely’s life had a theme, it would be: Never Give Up on Your Dreams. As the founder of Spanx, a revolutionary pantyhose company, she is on several Top 100 lists for influential and powerful people. Blakely didn’t always dream of making pantyhose. She was going to be a lawyer! But she failed the bar (the final test to becoming an attorney) and her career took a different path. While working at an office supply company, Blakely decided to turn her frustration with ill-fitting pantyhose into a business.
Her challenge was this: create a pair of fitted, control top pantyhose WITHOUT an unsightly seam in the toe, and women could comfortably wear underpants. She spent two years (and $5,000 in savings) researching this idea for a new kind of pantyhose, and then wrote her own patent after she could not find a female patent attorney to help her. She presented her idea to every single hosiery manufacturer in North Carolina and was rejected by every single one. When one hosiery mill operator talked to his daughters about Blakely’s ideas, they convinced him to manufacture her product.
Blakely did almost everything for her business by herself. She invented the name of the company, created the package design, and even decided where her product would be sold in stores (with the shoes, not with the other hosiery). She shopped her product around at high-end department stores, personally convincing buyers to carry it. Then she asked everyone she knew to go into the department stores and request her pantyhose. (Smart idea).
After Oprah Winfrey declared Spanx one of her “Favorite Products,” Blakely’s business made enough money for her to quit her day job, and soon made Blakely a billionaire.
Oprah was her first lucky break, and meeting Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, while starring on a reality TV show, was her second.
When she decided to start The Sara Blakely Foundation, an organization to teach women all over the world how to start their own business, Branson gave her $750,000 to get it up and running. Blakely is the youngest female billionaire and she was the first woman to sign The Giving Pledge. Her Foundation, along with its sister foundation for female business owners in the U.S., Leg Up, has already donated over $24 million to support education for female business owners.