Spanx Founder Sara Blakely, 43, stands atop a three-story
construction site in Atlanta's uptown Buckhead district,
surveying the city's skyline and blinking in the hot
afternoon sun. By February, this will be the view from the
company's rooftop garden, and the cavernous floors
below—comprising 86,000 square feet—will be the site
of Spanx's new offices, selected to accommodate
Blakely's staff of 160. Men in hard hats and yellow vests
scale the scaffolding, consult blueprints, maneuver cranes. She
turns and smiles. "All this because I didn't like how
my butt looked in white pants," she says.
Blakely's success store began in 1998, when, as a
door-to-door fax-machine salesman fed up with bunching
pantyhose, she created a proprietary slimming version designed
to lie smoothly under pants. Oprah hailed it as one of her
favorite products of the year in 2000, causing demand to explode
among middle-aged housewives and red-carpet starlets alike, and
leading to the creation of a full line that now encompasses more
than 200 garments, from body shapers and bras to menswear and,
beginning this fall, jeans.
Though she leads a company valued at more than a billion
dollars, Blakely still primarily identifies as an inventor.
Since she does her best thinking in the car (the idea to call
her product Spanx came to her while she was stopped at a red
light), she often extends her normal six-minute morning commute
to an hour, driving aimlessly to allow her mind to wander.
Wherever she goes, she carries a large spiral-bound Mead
notebook, compulsively filling it with scribbles, notes and
The mother of three has a salesman's facility with first
names and an almost clinical ease about assessing other
women's bodies, fixing an unabashed stare on the behind of a
model as she walks by. "I look at butts all day," she
says. "That's normal. I don't get in trouble with
HR." The company channeled its founder's easygoing
relatability, leading customers to develop an emotional
attachment to the product and eliminating the need for
advertising. Blakely estimates that roughly three times a day a
woman on the street will recognize her and flash her Spanx, a
gesture that has become a kind of secret handshake among the
brand's adherents. It's a testament to the fact that in
America, a little winking vanity can go a long way.
BLAKELY BY THE NUMBERS
11 questions asked by her son's prekindergarten classmates before
they correctly guessed her identity (she was wearing a
$250 to trademark the word Spanx in 2000. She changed the ks to an x at the last minute.
200 people waiting in line at 10 a.m. for the opening of the
stand-alone Spanx store (of which there are eight nationally) in
Tampa, FL, this summer.
4 days Time Blakely's husband, the rapper and entrepreneur
Jesse Itzler, spent in a wheelchair after running more than 100
consecutive miles for charity.
93 Age of Blakely's grandmother, who still wears Spanx
and is especially a fan of the "Bra-llelujah."
60 countries where Spanx are sold worldwide, including China, Italy
and United Arab Emirates.
8 minutes The typical length of Blakely's stand-up routine when
she was an aspiring comedian before she started Spanx.
$24 million Amount the Sara Blakely Foundation has donated to support
education and female entrepreneurship.
2 ideas for her next inventions: lipstick that stays on and
comfortable high-heeled shoes.