AIB Featured Business Leader – Sara Blakely
Founder of powerhouse hosiery brand Spanx, Sara Blakely has had an incredible entrepreneurial journey in the past 15 years. At 44 years of age, she is a self-made billionaire who has revolutionised the way women look and feel in clothing. For those who are not familiar with the brand, Spanx is an American shapewear company that manufactures undergarments, active wear and clothing that is designed to empower women, and since 2010, men also. Blakely’s sheer determination and philanthropic nature has made her a truly inspiring business leader, who in 2012 was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and was the youngest woman to top Forbes’ Billionaire list.
Born in Clearwater, Florida, Blakely attended Florida State University, where she graduated with a communications degree. After failing her law admissions test, she developed a resilient attitude towards failure and today regards the experience as one of the most important lessons in her life. Blakely shared, “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Blakely found inspiration for Spanx while experiencing a wardrobe dilemma of her own. Unable to find an alternative to stockings, which have foot seams and cannot be worn with open toed shoes, Blakely cut the feet off of her stockings to maintain a slim and smooth look under her clothing. In doing so, Blakely identified a gap in the market for shapewear. She then spent the following two years and life savings of $5000 developing and launching the brand, while continuing to work full-time in a sales role.
Blakely was confronted with a string of early rejections and scepticism when taking the product to market, which at the time was largely overseen by men who were not using the products they were producing. Despite having no formal business training, Blakely persevered with the product, gaining support from a manufacturer and successfully presenting the product to American department stores including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales and Saks. Shortly after, Oprah Winfrey announced to her millions of viewers that Spanx had made her list of “Favourite Things”. In the years following Oprah’s endorsement, and with Blakely’s careful and strategic guidance, Spanx went on to double and triple previous years’ sales, and hasn’t stopped growing ever since. Today, Spanx is a global empowerment empire praised all over the world. Blakely remains the sole owner of the brand, which offers over 200 products and is carried by over 11,000 retailers.
An avid philanthropist, she launched the Sara Blakely Foundation and Leg Up program to help women through education and entrepreneurial training. Blakely also personally donates to Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy and Detroit’s Empowerment Plan. In 2013, Blakely became the first female billionaire to join Warren Buffett and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, where she donated half of her fortune to charity. She famously told Forbes Magazine “Money is fun to make, fun to spend and fun to give away.”
What do you think?
Sara Blakely’s demonstrates that with a revolutionary empowering idea and determination, the sky is the limit. What intrigues you most about Sara’s business journey and generous philanthropic contributions?
This article was written by Ashlee Gerrard on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Business Insider; Who The Bomb; Forbes; Huffington Post; Brainy Quote
Image Credit: Forbes