How Sara Blakely Runs Spanx

entrepreneur, founder, inspiration

Project Entrepreneur’s founding partner, Rent the Runway, has a special place for women entrepreneurs. Not just in its heart but also in an actual community called “The Real Runway.” Here is an excerpt from the collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be. Read on for Sara Blakely’s story.

It all started with… a journal entry. 

At 25-years-old, Sara Blakely wrote down in her journal that she would invent a product which she would sell to millions of people. She didn’t know what the product would be, but decided it would be something that made people feel good. Two years later, when Sara cut the feet out of her pantyhose to wear under a pair of slacks, she had her answer. This was the humble start to what would become the undergarment empire known to women everywhere: Spanx. This is Sara’s story about how self-belief and perseverance transformed a fax-machine saleswoman into a self-made billionaire.


In the early days of Spanx, how did your self-belief override the rejection you faced? 

 

Before Spanx, I was selling fax machines door-to-door. I remember feeling like I was in the wrong movie, thinking — there’s a mistake here. I knew I had to rewrite the movie of my life. I sat down and wrote in my journal what my strengths and weaknesses were. The predominant thing in my strengths column was knowing how to sell. Once I identified that, I wrote down that I was going to invent a product that I could sell to millions of people — something that made people feel good. Then I let it go, and the idea showed up two years later. When I cut the feet out of my pantyhose, I wasn’t sure if it was the idea I was asking for, but knew I had to show the universe that I was serious about any ideas presented to me. Throughout my journey, that groundwork of manifestation is what got me through.

Whatever happened, I felt like it was part of the greater destiny I was creating for myself, and that kept me strong throughout the process.

That’s not to say I didn’t experience times of self-doubt. There was a point where I got so frustrated that I stopped what I was doing and asked for a sign to show me whether I should continue. About two months later, at the end of her show, Oprah lifted up her pant leg to reveal that she too had cut the feet out of her pantyhose in an effort to solve the undergarment problem. Up until then I hadn’t heard anything but no, so when that sign came (from Oprah nonetheless), I couldn’t believe it. All of the rejections and obstacles fell away, and from then on I was centered on my path and purpose.

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When working towards a big vision, how do you stay in touch with your achievements along the way? 

 

Gratitude keeps me in touch with my accomplishments. I wake up thinking, I’m so grateful that I was given this opportunity, and for all of those who made it possible. When it comes to fashion, I truly think that women have been ignored in terms of how we feel. The industry has been so focused on how we look. I don’t subscribe to the saying “beauty is pain.” When developing Spanx, I realized that undergarments were being created with very different goals compared to my own. The industry was completely focused on undergarments as being desirable to men. Undergarments were designed to look sexy and weren’t functioning under our clothes. I wanted to put the sexiness on the back burner, and focus on the woman who was buying for herself. I set out to shift that whole paradigm.

A way that I’ve been able to overcome fear is by linking everything to a greater purpose. I’ve always wanted to achieve the greatest amount of success that I could, because I couldn’t wait to donate money as a result of that success. My drive has always been linked to something outside of my own personal reward. If I’m working towards something that is solely self-serving, I find it difficult to push through fear and am less motivated.

 

If you had a single piece of advice to pass on to other entrepreneurs, what would it be? 

 

Differentiate yourself and stay connected to the ‘why.’ Really define your purpose for yourself and your customer, and let that be your beacon. I think so many people are focused on the ‘what,’ when I actually think the ‘why’ is what people feel the most connected to. From the day I cut the feet out of my pantyhose, I specifically explained why I was doing it. I didn’t do a big ad campaign around my product. It was always: ‘Why am I doing this? Why does this matter? Why did I invest my own personal savings?’ And that’s why the brand became what it did for so many women. Because they could relate to the ‘why.’

Connect with Sara Blakely

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY KATHRYN MCCARY

Read the full article on Rent the Runway’s The Real Runway.