I had the honor of sitting down with SPANX Founder and Inventor Sara Blakely at the grand opening of her store at Northpark Center. The “Jiggle-Free Jubilee” attracted women (and men) of all ages who lined up outside the store anxiously awaiting the official “hose” cutting ceremony and entrance to shapewear mecca. Dallas is the 6th store front for the revolutionary shapewear brand that offers over 200 products including shapewear, active wear, swimwear, and even menswear!
Sara arrived to the store beaming, smiling from ear to ear, hugging each and every employee behind the closed glass doors. Once a fax machine saleswoman, Sara is now the youngest self-made female billionaire. How did she do it? It all started when she cut off the feet of her stockings because she didn’t like the way her butt looked in white pants. With an idea and $5,000 in savings, the SPANX revolution began…
Sara: When I first started I fought so hard for one pocket in a hosiery department, not even a row. They wouldn’t give me a whole row. So to now walk into a store that is dedicated to SPANX is very emotional.
Natalie: You had an idea and $5,000 in savings and turned it into a billion dollar company. What do you think has been the largest contributing factor to your success with SPANX?
Sara: Really, really focusing on the customer. It’s all about the customer. I’m obsessed with the customer. I am the customer. I really don’t think you can go wrong if you don’t take your eye off of that. Serving the customer. How does she feel? I feel like the fashion industry has cared a lot about how we look but not about how we feel. And I feel that women have been neglected, unnecessarily neglected and mistreated personally by the fashion industry and shapewear in that entire category was a definite place that we were neglected. So showing up to these manufacturers I was from Clearwater Beach, I had never worked in the business but I garnered pretty quickly that there wasn’t a lot of caring going on about how we felt. So everything about Spanx is about the fit and that’s why I think we haven’t advertised and our customer base has been our advertisement because they feel that good in the garment.
Natalie: I read early on you didn’t spend money on advertisement…
Sara: We never advertised! I think it is just a testament to the products that we haven’t needed to do that yet.
Natalie: Not only are you the youngest self-made female billionaire, you are the first female to join Warren Buffet and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge. Was this a difficult decision to make?
Sara: No, it was not a difficult decision at all because I have always felt Spanx was more of a platform or an opportunity, a stepping stone to get me to where I ultimately wanted to be which was helping women. I have so much gratitude for being a woman, born in America, at the right time, in the right place, that this success of Spanx is not by accident as far as helping others.
Natalie: What has been your proudest moment so far since founding SPANX? I know there has probably been many exciting moments…
Sara: There are a few moments that really stand out. One of them obviously was the first time I got the Neiman Marcus order. That was a real pinch me moment because I spent two years hearing the word “no” and everyone telling me it wasn’t a good idea so for Neiman Marcus to say we want to sell this on our shelves, I was like (Sara then raises her hands in the air). And then the Oprah call was a big one… so those two are really high up there and then after I invented the footless and created power panties, I knew that I wasn’t a one hit wonder. So that was a real pivotal moment where I went from being a girl who invented this really revolutionary product, to a girl who had a company.
Natalie: You talk about how your father reset the definition of failure and how proud he would be when you told him you failed at something. Are you still failing at things today?
Sara: Yes! I still do. I really unsuccessfully tried a new yoga class (laughs). Failed at that! I was doing the opposite of everyone else. I couldn’t get the whole thing down, but I would say where I feel like I’m struggling the most in learning and giving myself permission to fail is in finding the balance in life. There are different aspects to women: there’s the mother, there’s the working woman, there’s the wife, the friend, the sister, the daughter and so just figuring that all out. I continue to want to try new things and give myself permission to not be great at it.
Natalie: SPANX now offers over 200 products ranging from bras to swimsuits and even products for men! What can we expect next from SPANX?
Sara: The thing that is the most immediate that I am really excited about are Spanx jeans. Spanx jeans are launching and they will be here in the store first before they are anywhere else and that will be probably around the end of July so very soon. And then what’s going on beyond that I have a revolutionary idea that is going to change shapewear category again, but I can’t talk about that. I can’t talk about that one! It’s very exciting! I am very product focused and driven so I don’t know exactly the timing that it comes out. I want the product and the prototype to be organic and when it’s right, I’ll launch it but I’m thinking it will be ready this fall.
Natalie: For women who are new to SPANX (if those women exists!), what product would you recommend to them so they can rock summer’s hottest trends?
Sara: I would always say Brallelujah. It’s life changing. I’m in it now. It is the most comfortable bra, looks great in all the summer t-shirts. No back fat, no bra lines. Also, Skinny Britches and Trust Your Thinstincts which I have on right now which is so lightweight and so great for the warmer season. Those are great and then I’ve been wearing the white cropped denim legging for the last month since they came out and everywhere I go people ask me what they are which is great.
Natalie: Now for my last question, I read that you would listen to Mark Knopfler’s, “What It Is” when you take off in an airplane…
Sara: Wow! You have done your research!
Natalie: Do you still listen to it when you get on a plane?
Sara: Oh, of course! Yes. I have actually gotten off planes because I forgot my headset. It’s like a real thing for me. I have to listen to it.
Natalie: What is it about that song?
Sara: I don’t know! It means it’s all gonna work out! (laughs)
I think it is pretty safe to say things are working out for Sara. Her enthusiasm, tenacity, and passion for what she does is inspiring and admirable. I am looking forward to seeing what SPANX has up their sleeve next! But in the meantime, be sure to visit them in Northpark Center Dallas for a solution to all of your summer style needs!