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Alee Pingol

It started out as a fashion emergency …

Sara Blakely had a party to attend, but nothing to wear underneath her expensive, new white pants. She wanted something seamless to smooth and shape her figure, but traditional shapewear was either too bulky or left lines, and everything else in her clothing arsenal just wasn’t working.

So, she decided to get creative, cut the feet out of her pantyhose, slipped them underneath her white pants and went to the party. As the night drew on, she noticed how comfortable and practical the pantyhose was, and that’s when an idea struck: “This should exist for women.”

There was no time to waste. With just $5,000 in savings, Blakely started her business, Spanx, which creates undergarments for women to smooth out their shape and accentuate their curves.

Today, Spanx has become a multi-million dollar business empire, with Blakely as the youngest female self-made billionaire ever to be included in the Forbes World’s Billionaires list. What started as a clothing emergency turned into a company with a net worth of $1 billion. Over the past few years, the company has gone on to expand more in the fashion industry.

So, how did a young entrepreneur like Blakely make it happen?

Sealing the Deal

Now that Blakely had the idea, all she had to do was get the business up and running. Easy, right? Well, not quite — Blakely faced a lot of adversity along the way.

At the time, she was living with her mom and selling fax machines door-to-door. Getting her idea out to the world wasn’t going to be as easy as picking up the phone and dialing hosiery mills …

Seriously, she tried that.

For months, nearly every person she contacted immediately shut the idea down. And at the same time, she was trying to patent her idea. But the cost to do so would’ve taken almost all of her savings. So, Blakely took matters into her own hands and learned how to write her own patent.

After weeks of meeting with different hosiery mills and pitching her idea to them, Blakely had finally reached an agreement with a mill out of Charlotte, North Carolina. And so began the journey of creating the prototype for Spanx.

Understanding the Consumer’s Point of View

After a year of late nights and working on weekends, Blakely presented a sketch of her prototype to the patent attorney, who still agreed to meet with her despite not being entirely on board with the idea. As the process of creating a prototype was underway, Blakely’s eyes were suddenly opened to the consumer’s perspective.

In the hosiery mills, they determine sizing by putting the product on a plastic model.

“I remember I leaned in, I’m like, ‘Ask her how she feels.’ And they just looked at me. I said, ‘How do you know? If this plastic form’s not telling you in the middle of the day, it started binding, or it rolled or it didn’t fit right?’ So, with Spanx, I started testing my prototypes on real women, my mom, my grandmother, all my friends,” says Blakely in a video presentation.

She explains how this helped her obtain a real-world perspective and ensure the quality of her product.

Creating a Brand That Stands Out

The emphasis on quality continued in Blakely’s establishment of her brand. As the prototype was being finished up, next came the design elements. “I knew that I wanted to make a packaging, and I had never gone to class for this or anything, but as a consumer, I knew what I wanted and what I liked and didn’t like,” continues Blakely.

Right from the beginning, Blakely knew she wanted her packaging to be different from other hosiery brands. She began experimenting with various color schemes, fonts, and concepts. That’s when she decided to take a bold step.

“I said, ‘I have no money to advertise. When I get my chance for this product to be on the shelf, it’s gotta scream, ‘I’m new, I’m different, check me out.’ So, that’s what I did and when I made the packaging red.”

Most hosiery brands packaged their products in neutral colors. When Blakely decided to go for bright red and bold cartoon female figures, she knew she was taking a bold step.

“After I finished this masterpiece of a product and the packaging for myself, I thought, ‘I love it, it’s perfect. It makes me feel like I’m buying a present for myself. I don’t wanna feel dread when I go to buy hosiery or shapewear. I wanna feel like I’m kind of treating myself to something.'”

The same rule sparked the idea for her brand name, Spanx.

Blakely liked the sound of brands like Kodak and Coca-Cola. According to many of her friends who stand-up comedians, the “k” sounds tend to make audiences laugh. From the get-go, Blakely knew she wanted her brand name to have a “k” sound.

“Almost spontaneously, I’m sitting in traffic in Atlanta, the word ‘spanks’ came to me across my dashboard in traffic. I pulled up to the side of the road. I wrote it on a scrap piece of paper and I thought, ‘That’s it’… In between sitting in traffic and going home, I made a decision to change the ‘ks’ to an ‘x.'”

Making the Brand a Success

Observing other entrepreneurs and their success can significantly inspire and motivate those who are just starting. Take Sara Blakely: her business started with $5,000 and an idea. On her path to success, she sought to stand out from the crowd and take a real-life approach in every product she created.

Since her company’s founding, Spanx has gone on to develop women’s shapewear, maternity wear, leggings, and even a Spanx line for men. Their products are available to purchase in over 65 countries, most of which are available at department stores.

Much of Blakely’s success has to do with the fact that she believed in her idea. Regardless of the opposition she faces, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Her vision to create something new and different carried her through her journey to becoming the youngest female self-made billionaire.

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