Bridget Jones is a well known wearer of body-shaping undergarments  ©AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo
Bridget Jones is a well known wearer of body-shaping undergarments ©AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Supply audit: Spanx pants

30 November 2018

How one woman took on the male-dominated world of women’s underwear and changed it forever…

Party season is here, and under the right outfit you need the right underwear.
I know what you’re looking for – something that compliments your figure by pulling everything in just so, but won’t show through whatever it is you’re wearing. Have you tried cutting the feet off your control-top tights? That’s what Sara Blakely did before she founded the brand American hosiery brand Spanx.

Do you mean the brand behind the Granny pants of Bridget Jones fame?
Those are the ones. Made of an elasticated material that tucks and squeezes in all the right places, Spanx are designed to make woman look thinner and more shapely. Blakely founded the company with $5,000 of her own savings, single-handedly developing the prototype, sourcing a manufacturer, creating the packaging and personally overseeing the initial sales.

If you want a job done properly you have to do it yourself…
Exactly. And Blakely is a figurehead for showing up in person. When attempting to get the brand off the ground, she became so frustrated calling up potential suppliers she took a week off work and drove around North Carolina – the unexpected heart of the American hosiery industry – to visit them in person. Although she wasn’t immediately successful, one mill owner called her back to say he would manufacture her product after his daughter, who he had mentioned it to, convinced him it was worth pursuing.

Were there no women involved in the hosiery industry at the time?
Apparently not. And Blakely started to realise that this dearth of women may have been the reason why tights were so uncomfortable in the first place. Not only was she one of the first to actually test products on real people, but Blakely also discovered that to cut costs many producers were using the same sized waistband for different sizes of product. And it wasn’t just the apparel industry – so reluctant was any male attorney to help her patent her invention (the Chamber of Commerce told Blakely at the time there were no female patent attorneys in the state of Georgia) that she taught herself patent law and wrote the majority of the patent herself.

Was it all worth it?
In short, yes. Spanx remains privately owned and does not release financial figures, but the company must be doing something right, as Blakely joined the Forbes billionaire list in 2012 at the age of 41. “Blakely owns 100% of the private company, has zero debt, has never taken outside investment and hasn’t spent a nickel on advertising,” the magazine said. Her inclusion made her at the time the youngest woman to earn a place on the list without help from a spouse or inheritance.

The Bridget Jones effect

John Lewis credited the release of the third Bridget Jones movie on a spike in sales of Spanx in the UK, with the retailer reporting a 71% rise in September 2016 from the same time the previous year.

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