For as long as she could remember, Sara Blakely wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a trial attorney. But she didn’t do well on the LSAT and skipped law school. Her job at Disney World, clowning in a chipmunk suit, didn’t work out well either. So Sara sold fax machines door-to-door for seven years and discovered she was good at sales. She dreamed of marketing something of her own creation.
A pair of pantyhose, some scissors, and a good dose of ingenuity led Sara Blakely on the road to success.
Then, dressing for a party in warm Florida weather one day in 1998, Blakely hated how the seamed foot of her pantyhose looked with open-toed shoes. “In the hopes of looking better in my fitted white pants, I cut the feet out of a pair of pantyhose and substituted them for my underwear,” she later told an interviewer. “This allowed me to benefit from the slimming effects of the pantyhose’s ‘control top’ while allowing my feet to go bare in my cute sandals. The moment I saw how good my butt looked, I was like, ‘Thank you, God, this is my opportunity!’”
Sara invested $5,000 of her savings into developing shapewear which she pedaled herself on the floor of Neiman Marcus stores. Two years later, Oprah Winfrey named Spanx a “Favorite Thing” and gave it a major boost in popularity. Sara was off to the races. Her company now solves the wardrobe woes of women in more than 50 countries around the world by designing close-fitting bras, underwear, leggings, and other intimate apparel in a way that has changed the way women feel about their bodies.
Sara’s father encouraged his children to learn from failure. “He wanted us to try everything and feel free to push the envelope,” she says.
Blakely now has a net worth estimated at $1.1 billion. Forbes declared that she was the world’s youngest, self-made female billionaire in 2012 and TIME named her one of its 100 Most Influential People. She believes that her (and her company’s) mission is to help women feel good about themselves and their potential.
Even still, the wildly successful innovator admits that she struggles with doubt and fear. “Negative self-talk is the No.1 barrier to success,” Sara says. “Don’t let what you don’t know scare you, because it can become your biggest asset.”