Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Founder of Spanx
Currently Known For:
One of World's 100 Most Powerful Women
February 27, 1971
Founder of Spanx
Many of us feel as if there’s no chance to become a billionaire, as we weren’t born into the right families. However, there are plenty of self-made billionaires around, all it takes is one idea that catches on to be amongst the richest people in the world. One current billionaire that has set a high bar for self-made fortune is Sara Blakely. Though you might not know the name, there’s a good chance that you’ve become familiar with her product, as she’s the person that invented Spanx, a brand of shapewear that’s become synonymous with the type of clothing.
When you think of self-made billionaires, you might think of people who came from almost no money. That wasn’t exactly the case for Blakely as her father John had been a successful lawyer while her mother Ellen was an artist. Blakely herself was born on February 27, 1971 in Clearwater, Florida, where she spent her entire youth. After graduating from high school, Blakely wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. However, Blakely didn’t do quite well on the tests and changed course.
With that, Blakely shifted focus to a communications degree while she was at Florida State University, eventually earning her degree. From there, Blakely was a bit lost with what she wanted to do with her career and bounced around for several jobs. This included trying her hand as a stand-up comic, though that unfortunately didn’t pan out either. She then found herself at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where she wanted to wear the Goofy costume. Blakely wasn’t tall enough to play Mickey’s gangly pal, though, so she strapped riders into roller coasters for a few months. Once she left Disney, Blakely started to sell fax machines for Danka on a door-to-door basis, which isn’t exactly ideal for a college graduate.
If you’ve ever been to Florida during the summer months, you know that it isn’t exactly easy to cool down. When you have to walk door-to-door to try and sell fax machines, it can be excruciatingly hot. Still, Blakely had to dress the part, which typically meant having to wear pantyhose to her presentations. Feeling uncomfortable in pantyhose from the heat, Blakely tried to cut the feet off of the bottoms, but found that the ankle part rolled up as a result.
Still, the result gave Blakely an idea to try and develop shapewear that wouldn’t have a seam at the feet, and made varying sizes that hadn’t been done at the time. Spending all of the $5,000 that she had to her name, Blakely got to work mostly by herself, and came up with the final prototype. With her savings tapped out, Blakely used her credit card to file for the trademark Spanx that would become the cornerstone of an entire industry.
“What I did was start small, think big and scale fast,” she said. “I didn’t ever get ahead of myself on spending. I only spent what I absolutely needed to. The Spanx headquarters was my 1,100 square foot apartment. I used my roommate’s bedroom. Even when I had the money to move out of my apartment - even though we were all on top of each other - I didn’t. For two additional years, that was the headquarters. Then, from there on out, my headquarters were always way below what I could have spent.”
It didn’t start off as a sensation, as she had to hock the shapewear at department stores herself and selling them online out of her apartment, but it didn’t take long for Spanx to become a hit. Launching in 2000, Spanx caught the eye of some very notable people. This included the likes of Oprah Winfrey and higher-ups at QVC, quickly putting Spanx on the map.
Blakely used this newfound fame to go on reality television, where she got a chance to learn from billionaire Richard Branson, who also lent an endorsement toward Blakely, helping to give her another boost. In the years since then, Spanx has become a household name, and has had people from the likes of Nike and Coca-Cola jumping aboard to the growing brand.
Since 2012, Blakely has found herself amongst the world’s billionaires, and has remained there if ever so slightly. Between a high of $1.2 billion and a low of $1 billion during that span, Blakely isn’t exactly among the Bill Gates or Warren Buffetts of the world, but does have the billionaire status that many strive for. She ranks just outside of the top 2000 in terms of wealth in the United States, and is one of the 25 richest self-made women in the United States. Even at 47, Blakely is the youngest self-made female billionaire in the United States.
Blakely still runs the Spanx operation, and has also gotten into other business ventures. Since 2008, Blakely has been married to businessman Jesse Itzler, who got his start in producing music and eventually became an entrepreneur himself before meeting Blakely, starting Marquis Jet and a group that started Coconut Water. The couple has four children together, and in recent years became part owners of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks along with businessmen Tony Ressler, Steven Price and Rick Schnall, as well as basketball legend Grant Hill.
Blakely now says that if you want to be a billionaire, as well, the key is failure. “My dad growing up encourage me and my brother to fail,” she said. “The gift he was giving me is that failure is not trying versus the outcome. It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”