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Sarah Blakely: From Door-to-Door Fax Sales to Billionaire Shapewear Entrepreneur

Sarah Blakely: From Door-to-Door Fax Sales to Billionaire Shapewear Entrepreneur
Photo by Spanx, Edited by Grey Knight

Sarah Blakely is a name synonymous with the shapewear industry. Her Spanx brand, which she founded with her savings of $5,000, is now valued at over $1.2 billion and sells in more than 50 countries. In addition to her business success, Blakely is also a minority owner of the NBA team, the Atlanta Hawks. But how did this former door-to-door fax machine salesperson become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world? Let’s find out.

Early Life

Sarah Blakely was born in Clearwater, Florida, in 1971. Her parents, Ellen and John Blakely, raised her and her younger brother, Ford. Sarah showed entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, creating a haunted house for Halloween in her neighborhood and charging an entry fee.

After graduating from Clearwater High School in 1989, Sarah attended Florida State University, where she earned a communication degree in 1993. During college, she joined the Delta Delta Delta sorority.

Career Beginnings

After college, Blakely wanted to study law, but her low LSAT scores prevented her from getting into law school. She then worked at Walt Disney World in Orlando as a ride-buckle helper, but she found the work unenjoyable and left after three months. She also dabbled in stand-up comedy while working at Disney World.

Blakely’s next career move was in sales at Danka, an office supply company. She worked as a fax machine salesperson and excelled at the job. By the time she was 25 years old, she became a national sales trainer.

The Idea for Spanx

Blakely’s time at Danka led to a significant idea. During work, she had to wear tights that she disliked for their appearance. However, she still commended the tights for eliminating panty lines while making her body firmer. At a party, she experimented with cutting off the bottom of the tights and wearing them under a pair of slacks. They continued to roll up until she got the results she liked. Hence, she had the idea for a shapewear product and experimented with it.

By 27 years old, Blakely moved to Atlanta and worked on developing her idea for the next two years with her $5,000 savings. She presented her idea to shapewear mills in North Carolina, but they all rejected her concept until a male-owned mill operator offered support to Blakely’s idea. After gaining support from the mill operator, she created a prototype and then made efforts to get a patent for her prototype. After the patent submission, she started the packaging of her product with red and three women. However, she did not have a brand name for a year and a half. She settled with the brand name Spanx after seeing ideas from other brands and advice from people.

Building the Brand

Blakely managed to sell her products to seven stores of the Neiman Marcus group in 1999. She followed this venture by focusing on retail shops. Other brands and stores followed suit, including Saks, Bloomingdale’s, and Bergdorf Goodman. The company was founded in 2000 with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2000, Blakely and her product gained publicity when Oprah Winfrey named Spanx one of her favorite things. This endorsement was possible when Blakely sent her products to the Oprah Winfrey show. It helped the product achieve awareness in the market and led Blakely to work full time with her product. In 2001, Spanx and Blakely were featured on The Home Shopping Network, and the product sold out in just six minutes. This led to Spanx becoming a household name and further success for Blakely and her brand.

Spanx continued to expand its product line, introducing new items such as bras, underwear, and leggings. The brand also introduced a men’s line in 2010. Today, Spanx is known for its high-quality and innovative shapewear products, and the brand has a loyal following of customers.

Blakely’s Success

Blakely’s success story is an inspiring one. She started with just $5,000 in savings and an idea for a new product, and she worked tirelessly to turn that idea into a successful business. Today, she is a self-made billionaire and one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world.

In addition to her success with Spanx, Blakely is also a philanthropist and is involved in various charitable organizations. She has donated millions of dollars to organizations such as Girls Inc. and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Blakely is also a mother of four and has been open about the challenges of balancing her family and her business. She has said that her children are her top priority, and she makes sure to spend quality time with them despite her busy schedule.

Final Thoughts

Sarah Blakely’s story is a testament to the power of hard work, perseverance, and innovation. She turned a simple idea into a billion-dollar business, and her success has inspired countless entrepreneurs around the world. Her story is a reminder that anyone can achieve success with the right mindset and dedication.

Additional Resources

To keep learning and advancing your career, we highly recommend these additional resources:

Robert Herjavec: From Poverty to Millionaire

Tommy Hilfiger: From Humble Beginnings to a Fashion Icon

Richard Branson: The Story of the Virgin Group’s Rise to Success

Carlos Slim: The Mexican Billionaire who Controls Over 200 Companies

Peter Thiel: The Mastermind Behind PayPal and Palantir Technologies

Peter Thiel and the 16 Unicorns: The Legacy of Thiel Fellowship

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