Are you sitting fashionably? Sara Blakely, the founder of the undergarment company Spanx, certainly hopes so. We talk to the American businesswoman, who, at 41, also happens to be the world's youngest female self-made billionaire.
How did the idea of Spanx first come about? Was there a defining moment?
My own butt! I didn't like the way it looked in my white pants, so I cut the feet out of control top pantyhose, and Spanx was born. I loved my rear view, was able to wear open-toed shoes, but the hose kept rolling up my legs all night. At that moment, I knew I was on to something that women needed - a thin, lightweight shaper that eliminated panty lines and made your clothes fit so much better.
There were similar products already on the market when you established the business. What set Spanx apart and convinced you it would be a success?
Sometimes, what you don't know can be your greatest asset. If you don't know how it's always been done, and you aren't afraid to trust your instincts, chances are you will come up with a better way. I didn't know the first thing about the pantyhose industry. I just knew I wanted to make a shaper out of the lightweight pantyhose material. Shapers prior had always been too thick and binding, and showed lines and bulges under clothes. They didn't solve the problem. I had never taken a business class. I bought a book on trademarks and patents and wrote my own patent. I researched hosiery manufacturers online and eventually found one to make a prototype for me. From naming the product, to designing the packaging, and getting Spanx in stores, my best resource was following my own gut and listening to that inner voice that we all have.
What is the one Spanx product you can't live without?
Spanx Bra-llelujah - it's literally so comfortable, you forget you have it on and it gets rid of back fat.
What drives you?
After watching a close friend die in an accident when I was 16, I realised that life is precious and fleeting. This awareness drives me to make the most of every day. Also, my gratitude for being a woman born in a country that allows me to pursue my passions and follow my dreams. I feel very lucky and I'm driven to represent this opportunity as best I can, and also to help women all over the world have the same opportunity.
What books do you enjoy reading?
I typically read books in four categories: business, parenting, self help/motivational and health/wellness. I'm usually reading sections of multiple books at the same time so I always have a pretty big stack by my bedside. Currently on my bedside table is The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel PhD; Wayne Dyer's newest book, Wishes Fulfilled; Start with Why by Simon Sinek; Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh; Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard; and Fit for Life by Harvey Diamond.
Being involved in the fashion/undergarment industry - how would you define style?
My style motto is: when in doubt … wear it! Fashion should be fun, and I try not to take myself too seriously. I have no problem wearing candy jewellery from gumball machines with designer gowns.
What is currently playing on your iPod?
Madonna and Lady Gaga always fire me up. I can't live without music, and my iPod goes everywhere with me. I'm afraid to fly. I have a "good luck" song that I listen to every time I take off on a plane. It's Mark Knopfler's What it Is.
What five words best describe you?
Creative, compassionate, quirky, imaginative and daring.