Wednesday, Sep. 09, 2009

Sara Blakely: Body-Shaper Pioneer

"It was because of my own butt," says Sara Blakely, matter-of-factly explaining how she came up with the concept for her first pair of Spanx, the modern-day girdle Blakely, 38, invented 11 years ago with $5,000 in hard-earned savings. "I did not like the way my rear end looked in white pants, and like so many women, I couldn't figure out what to wear under them." Spanx's 2008 retail sales were estimated at $350 million, and today the brand has more than 200 products that slim and smooth body parts extending way beyond the behind.

To fully grasp just how indispensable Spanx has become, look no further than the red carpet, where stars from Queen Latifah to Katherine Heigl gamely gab about their Spanx-branded underpinnings. A cadre of influential women have been taken with Spanx, not least among them the titans of daytime talk shows. Ellen, Tyra and Oprah have all raved about Spanx on the air.

Key to the company's success is its fun, fresh image. Products have clever names — like the Slim Cognito bodysuit and the Bra-llelujah! bra, which Blakely says gets rid of back fat and bra lines. Lower- and higher-priced brand extensions are named Assets and Haute Contour, respectively. Blakely, who had her first baby in June, road-tested Assets' Marvelous Mama maternity line, which is launching this month. And soon men will have their first Spanx styles. To Blakely, the possibilities seem endless. "I always joke and say I want to invent a comfortable stiletto and then retire."