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Spanx founder Sara Blakely, the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, is actually quite down to earth. (Did you know? One of her first jobs was selling fax machines!) Her appealing bootstraps bio and subsequent launching of her popular hosiery line is the stuff of legend. Dallas fans will be happy to know, however, that Blakely will be in town, in the flesh tomorrow to celebrate the opening of the first Spanx store in Texas at NorthPark Center. But before the Jiggle-Free Jubilee gets started, here's a debriefing on the Queen of Briefs.
I understand you pursued comedy before your success with Spanx. How would you describe your comedy back then?
Stand-up comedy taught me that if you can get your audience's attention and make them laugh, they will listen for 30 more seconds!
Can you tell us a funny, all-ages appropriate joke?
It isn't exactly a joke, but in a recent embarrassing moment I told everyone at a cocktail party I had a motto in life I lived by. Someone asked me what it was, and I forgot my motto! My husband thought it was so funny, he had a neon sign made to hang in our house that reads: I have a motto I live by but I forgot it. Too funny.
Is it true that you arrived at the name 'Spanx' because you learned in comedy training that anything is funnier with an 'x'? And what kind of reception did you get from vendors, colleagues, etc. when you told them the name of your company?
Well, I knew that Kodak and Coca-Cola were the two most recognized names in the world, and they both have a predominant "K" sound in them. Also, yes, from doing stand-up comedy, it is a known secret that the "K" sound makes people laugh. So for good luck, I wanted my product's name to have the "K" sound in it, and SPANKS hit me like a lightning bolt. I immediately knew it was perfect! At the last minute I changed the "KS" to an "X" after doing research that made-up words do better for products than real words (and are easier to trademark). Spanx is edgy, fun, extremely catchy, and for a moment it makes your mind wander (admit it).
You're the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, say many sources. Did you always have the entrepreneurial gene growing up? Did you ever have a lemonade stand?
As a kid in Clearwater (Fla.), I used to sew charms onto socks and sell them to my friends at swim practice. I made haunted houses in the garage and charged people to come. If my mom told me to clean out old stuff from my bedroom, I would put it in a red wagon, put prices on it, and go door to door. I guess I've always had a mind for business.
What was the hardest part of your 'journey' to get Spanx on shelves?
It took me two years from the time I had the idea for Spanx until the time I had a product in hand ready to sell into stores. I must have heard the word "no" a thousand times! I was working full time selling fax machines and trying to get my product manufactured, and the men running the hosiery mills did not believe in me or my idea. I had to believe in myself and my idea 100 percent to make it happen!
What's your favorite undergarment that you make?
One of my all-time SPANX favorites is Bra-llelujah!—a front-closure, back-fat busting miracle! It's so comfortable that I literally wear it every day. It doesn't matter what size you are, back fat can attack, so it's important to wear an elastic-free bra. I also love our Skinny Britches line—it's lightweight shaping that's powerful enough to tame the tummy, hips and thighs but cool enough to wear all year round, which is perfect for Dallas!
For someone who has never bought a Spanx product, is there one that they should buy first?
Maybe I am biased because it was the first product I invented, but a Spanx wardrobe essential is still Footless Pantyhose. It is still my go-to under white pants this Spring and Summer!
How did you arrive at your company's red and black aesthetic?
When I was originally designing the packaging I knew I wanted it to be red – it's one of my favorite colors. We didn't have money to advertise, so I knew a red package would stand out among all the beige and grey on the store shelves. The only source I went to was my gut and myself as a consumer. I thought, 'Personally I don't like buying pantyhose, it's confusing and boring. How can I change that?'
As a mom, what kind of lessons would you like to impart to your son, regarding success and achievement?
The biggest gifts I can give my son are the drive to succeed and the appreciation of the value of a dollar. There's joy in the accomplishment of doing something on your own, and I want to encourage that. My goal as a parent is that he finds his own passion.