Sara Blakely - The Inspiration Behind Ladies Not Legends!
Sara Blakely is a badass Legend in her own right!
As the billionaire (yep I said billion) owner of Spanx (you know those fabulous bodysuits & leggings that hold everything in and make you look as though you don’t have any lumps or bumps!), she is not only named as one of Time 100’s most influential people in the world, she also co-owns the Atlanta Hawks, has appeared in the fabulous Netflix show ‘Billions’ (one of my faves), has given millions to charities and causes the world over and is part of Bill Gates & Warren Buffets ‘Giving Pledge’ pledging half of her wealth to charitable causes.
She’s a giant of a Legend!
But what’s so important is that she didn’t start this way. She wasn’t born into wealth. Daddy wasn’t waiting with a billion dollar business or huge financial investment.
In fact she fell out of University into a job at Disney!
Like all of us she tried her hand at various jobs over the years, trying out stand up comedy, selling fax machines door to door - come on most of us have had a door to door selling job at some point right? I used to sell cleaning materials! If you haven’t try it, it’s a hoot and sets you up super well for rejection of the harshest kind!
At age 27, (some 4 years younger than I was when I created my first business - which didn’t become a billion dollar idea in case you were wondering), she began working on her idea of footless pantyhose. (Not exactly novel though right?)
She liked how ‘control top’ pantyhose kept everything in but hated how the seams looked in shoes. I remember feeling the same. Although I spend my life in flip flops now so I no longer have the problem!
Like the rest of us back in the day she cut the feet off, but of course the tights then just rolled up the legs, creating a very uncomfortable situation, but unlike the rest of us, she had an idea for how she might recreate something similar but sturdier that would stay in place.
That my friend was the beginning of Spanx.
However it wasn’t all champagne and roses in the early days. While still selling fax machines she saved up $5000 which she spent on creating her prototype, which was then promptly turned down by numerous sales representatives (all men by the way), until the fateful day - Hallelujah! - a hosiery mill operator who also happened to be a father to three daughters who loved her product said he’d support her!
The rest as they say is history, she hustled her buns off to get her product in front of the right people, sending a pack to Oprah who named it her favorite product! The Oprah effect ensued and Spanx became an international sensation and Sara finally handed her notice in to the fax machine company!
So what can we learn from this awesome, down to earth, willing to work for her dreams, inspirational woman?
1. We need to hustle baby!
Spanx wasn’t the first ‘hug it all in footless pantyhose’. I remember wearing control top footless tights in my 20’s, probably roughly around the same time Sara was, prior to her invention. I also remember the body suits and petticoats and all the other breathe & blood circulation restricting items of clothing I used to wear to try to hide my Friday night pizza binges!
So she wasn’t really coming up with a new idea, just a new angle to an old idea, something more comfortable, easier to wear, meeting a significant need (I guess we all have Friday night pizza binges from time to time!) and then she hustled her hiney off!
2. We need to believe in our ideas and be brave!
After creating her idea she cold called and visited hosiery mill after hosiery mill to try to get someone to buy into it and was rejected time after time by men who didn’t even wear the products they were making / selling. (All her background in door to door selling was paying off). But even after harsh rejection she believed this was a product that had wings and continued to bang on doors.
3. Do whatever it takes to achieve your goals.
One of my favorite stories about Sara is when she changed into a pair of Spanx in the ladies restroom in front of a the buyer from Neiman Marcus to prove how great they were!
I remember in my first business changing my newborn daughters nappy (diaper) on a glass table in the middle of a luxury apartment just before doing quite a significant financial deal with the apartment buyer. I had no choice, I just had to make it work.
The one thing I can guarantee you when going for your goals, whatever they may be, is that you will face adversity and you just have to find your way over, under, through, whatever works!
4. Keep going for your dreams no matter how big they may be!
I bet if you told Sara when she first had her idea, one day soon you’ll have so much money you’ll be part of the Gates Buffet giving pledge, she may have had a sparkle in her eye at the thought, but did she truly think that might be possible? Who knows.
The key is, the most extraordinary things can happen to the most ordinary of people (not saying any of us are ordinary, far from it, but you know what I mean) who, with a great idea, a lot of tenacity and a bit of the wind behind them go for their goals. So keep dreaming and keep hustling, you never know what the future has in store for you!
“Don't be intimidated by what you don't know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else”