A Slimming Story of Reinvention

Sara had enough of her dead end job.  After two abysmal attempts at the LSAT exam for law school admittance and a miserable three-month stint at Disney World, she responded to a billboard ad to sell office equipment and supplies.  After landing the gig, she was handed the Yellow Pages and instructed to sell $20,000 of fax machines each month.  Five years later, in the same role, her life felt empty and unfulfilled.  Mediocre career, mediocre pay, mediocre life.  Blah.

The $78 purchase of a pair of Arden B cream-colored slacks changed everything.  When heading out for the evening, she wanted to wear pantyhose under her new slacks but also wanted to wear sandals. Since the closed-toe nature of her hose was unacceptable, she cut the feet off the pantyhose and wore them under her pants.  While her makeshift solution didn’t work out (the hose rolled up her legs all night), her simple idea allowed her to reinvent herself and an industry.  She realized that women wanted to look toned and the current variety of pantyhose and girdles didn’t meet the needs of modern women’s fashion.  This office supply salesperson’s name was Sara Blakely, and the name of the company she launched was called Spanx.

Today, the company delivers $50 million of net profit per year to its only shareholder, Sara.  Having never taken on debt or outside investment, she built the company into the dominant brand in the slimming undergarments category.  In a 2012 cover story, Forbes magazine lists the 43-year-old’s net worth at $1.0 billion.  She’s the youngest self-made female billionaire in America.

Her incredible success isn’t just attributed to a breakthrough moment of creativity, however.  Ideas alone don’t magically create full-blown reinventions.  Instead, Sara Blakely’s success came from the combination of a creative insight married with precision execution and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned grit.  Blakely didn’t inherit a fortune or come from a well-connected family.  There were thousands of reasons her dream would never materialize, from lack of capital to zero industry know-how.  But instead of having an idea and letting it slip through her fingers, Blakely pursued her vision with unwavering resolve.

Unable to afford a lawyer, she wrote her own patent application.  She cold-called hosiery mills from the phone book and was met with continuous rejection.  Unwilling to concede, she traveled to North Carolina and just showed up at one of the mills, only to be escorted out by security.  But two weeks later, the manager called her back and gave her a shot.

Building her product was one thing, but selling was another. Blakely used her tenacity to fight her way in to meet the CEO of Neiman Marcus, who then helped get Blakely’s product in stores.  She cold-called fashion journalists and begged them to cover her new concept in their work.  She even sneaked her product into stores on racks she had purchased herself.  QVC turned her down repeatedly, until finally acquiescing to her unstoppable persistence.

Blakely combined a burning desire for change with a creative vision and relentless determination.  Think what you can do in your own life by following her lead.  There are limitless opportunities for reinvention waiting for you; now is your time to seize them.