After two days of heartwarming stories and moving tributes, a little levity came to the Women in the World Summit on Friday afternoon in an interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx.
Blakely, 42, became the youngest female self-made billionaire in 2012 thanks to her popular line of shapewear. Hers is a story of “trusting your instincts,” fierce entrepreneurship—and taking failure in stride. Like so many startups, the idea for Spanx began with a personal problem: Blakely didn't like the way “her butt looked in white pants.” She took to cutting the feet off of control-top stockings in order to customize them.
At 29, Blakely had failed the LSAT, was hawking fax machines, and had $5,000 in her bank account. Since she didn't have the money to hire a lawyer, she patented the idea for Spanx herself. For two years, she says, she “stood in department stores all day every day,” lifting up her skirt to show shoppers the Spanx. Thirteen years later, the company has become synonymous with shapewear—the category it represents—and is now valued at over a billion dollars. (Blakely owns 100 percent of the company and has never taken outside funding.)
When moderator Felicia Taylor, a CNN International business correspondent, asked her how it felt to be a billionaire, Blakely paused. “That’s an interesting question,” she said. “It's awesome.” Cheers erupted from the stands.
But Blakely says she’s not finished yet. The challenge of making something as awkward as shapewear both comfortable and functional inspires her to take on something else. “I always say I want to invent a comfortable stiletto and then retire,” she told the crowd. “We put a man on the moon, I know we can do this.”