When millions of Americans pull up to the Thanksgiving table this week, preparing to tuck into a calorie-laden feast of turkey and all the trimmings, they will have something extra special for which to give thanks.
The stretchy, spandex undergarments will cover a multitude of holiday sins for many of us through this season and beyond, keeping us comfortably nipped and tucked into our favorite fancy dress and everyday attire with nary a bulge or ripple in sight.
Who do we have to thank for these wonders? Sara Blakely, the entrepreneur whose moxie changed shapewear as we know it.
Blakely was a 20-something salesperson schlepping fax machines in the Florida heat and humidity when she recognized a need. One day, she needed undergarments to wear under a pair of lovely light-colored slacks, but none of her options were suitable. On a whim, she cut the feet out of her pantyhose, and an idea was born. Her new and improved version disappeared under her slacks, gently shaped her body and was fairly comfortable. She was sure with some modifications she’d have a winning product on her hands.
Blakely’s instincts were right. Two years and a whole lot of hustle later, her idea became a reality. Today, Blakely is the youngest self-made female billionaire in the U.S. What can we learn from Blakely’s moxie? Plenty.
Moxie is often a DIY proposition. Blakely had $5000 and a good idea. She didn’t have connections, expertise or a patent attorney. What she did have was good research skills and a whole lot of persistence.
When it came time to write up a patent for her idea, Blakely couldn’t find a patent attorney she felt she could afford or trust. So, she headed down to her local Barnes and Noble and found a book about patent law. She drafted her patent using the book, and turned to an attorney only when it was time to put the finishing touches on it.
When shopping the garment around to department store buyers, Blakely’s approach was also famously DIY. Her pitch to her first buyer included a trip to the ladies’ room, where Blakely entered a bathroom stall sans Spanx, then emerged with the undergarment in place under her pants. They buyer was instantly sold.
Moxie makes you an expert. Blakely quickly discovered that no one who she encountered on her journey to making her shapewear actually used the products they were manufacturing. Garments were tried on mannequins, not actual people. The garment “experts” were men, and none of them actually wore the garments they were creating– at least not that they would admit. They had no idea how uncomfortable and impractical they were.
Blakely, however, knew her product from the inside out – literally. She tested each prototype, and asked her friends and family to do the same. Their honest feedback helped her radically reimagine how undergarments should look, feel and function.
Blakely reshaped more than shapewear. She reshaped how people thought about producing shapewear. She gave women a presence in the process, and made women central to the product, a radical idea given the context at the time.
Blakely continues to make women central. She intentionally seeks out ways to empower and equip women to lead.
Moxie means hearing a whole lot of “no” and saying a whole lot of “yes.” Blakely got rejection after rejection from manufacturers, from buyers, from everyone. Her life was a whole lot of “no” for a long time. But once she got an offer of any sort, she said “yes” and made it happen, often filling in the blanks as she went. When initial orders came in, she still had to figure out elements of her design. She didn’t have supply, staff or warehouse. Her entire operation was in her home. But she said “yes” anyway, and put her moxie to work fulfilling her promises.
Who do you know who is reshaping an industry with their moxie? Share in the comments.