The annual Forbes’ Billionaire list is out. There is nothing like reading about rich people all around the world, many who inherited 100-year-old companies from their grandparents and as a result of their innovation, can now buy small countries. This is why the addition of Spanx founder Sara Blakely, as the youngest women on the list at 41 and one of the only self-made female billionaire’s, is so refreshing to see.
First of all, it just nice to see someone who wasn’t hanging out in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room at Harvard be included in the younger group on this list. Second of all, Blakely came up with one of the smartest inventions, in my opinion, in years and she is one of the only young women on the list who didn’t inherit her wealth. Spanx is a miracle undergarment company, in case you have been living under a rock for 10 years (under a rock with visible panty lines.) It now nets an estimated 20% on revenue just south of $250 million. In recent months four Wall Street investment banks separately valued Spanx at an average $1 billion, a sum Forbescorroborated with the help of industry analysts. Blakely owns 100% of the private company, has zero debt, has never taken outside investment and hasn’t spent a nickel on advertising. Spanx now sells 200 products in 11,500 department stores, boutiques and online shops in 40 countries, Forbes said.
So where did the innovative woman come from? She started her first business in 1990, a kids’ club at the Clearwater Beach Hilton in Clearwater, Florida where she grew up. Charging $8 a child for a few hours of babysitting while moms and dads tanned. After getting a degree in legal communications at Florida State she tried her hand at the LSAT’s but to no avail. She then worked at Disney World for a few months before cutting her teeth in sales at an office supply chain. Spanx was an idea born out of having a problem: she hated that the seamed foot stuck out of an open-toe sandal or kitten heel but she noticed that the control-top eliminated panty lines and made her tiny body look even firmer. She’d bought a new pair of cream slacks for $78 at Arden B and was keen to wear them to a party. “I cut the feet off my pantyhose and wore them underneath,” she says. “But they rolled up my legs all night. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to make this.’ I’d never worked in fashion or retail. I just needed an undergarment that didn’t exist.”
Sara’s husband, Jesse Itzler, 43, a former rapper from Long Island, who has backed and cofounded a few startups, including Marquis Jet, describes her as “50% Lucille Ball, 50% Einstein.” She has a major fear of heights, must listen to the same song everytime she is on a plane and dabbled in stand-up comedy. From Forbes:
“I keep a list of Sara-isms in my phone,” he says, referring to her goofy moments. “There’s something every day.” Recent example: wearing two different shoes, one red-soled Christian Louboutin and one plain boot, and having to hobble up the escalator at Bloomingdale’s. Legend: On the way to the Screen Actors Guild Awards one year, Blakely realized in the limo she’d forgotten her jewelry at her hotel. Instead of turning back, she had her driver stop at a candy store—and accessorized her gown with stretchable candy necklaces and bracelets. Spanx fans recognize her on the street, in stores and in airports and want to show their allegiance. “Women flash her,” says Itzler. “Imagine that. She’s just really good. She’s the best, man.””
It is so refreshing to see a woman whose persistence (she shipped samples to Oprah’s assistant until she got the call), innovation, quirks and craziness paid off. Because of that $5,000 investment and years of work Sarah has landed herself a spot in the tiny, elite club of American who are worth ten figures without the help of a husband or inheritance. Other members of this group include Oprah, Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg.