Mom Entrepreneur Q&A: Spanx’s Sara Blakely
It’s not surprising that in 2012, Forbes named Sara Blakely the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. You might have a harder time finding a polar bear in a snowstorm than a woman who hasn’t worn her creation—Spanx—at least once. Celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jennifer Garner have publicly professed their devotion to Blakely’s invention.
Last year, Spanx opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Tysons Corner Center in Virginia, followed by others in New Jersey and Pennsylvania—with more on the way. Even guys are being let in on the shaping action with the recently-launched Spanx for Men.
But Blakely’s success story doesn’t stop at erasing panty lines and love handles. The Atlanta–based mom to 3-year-old Lazer is a philanthropist (her Sara Blakely Foundation has given millions to women’s causes) and motivational speaker. She talks to Elizabeth Street about raising a child and running the shapewear empire. —Gaia Guidi Filippi
Elizabeth Street: You have one of the most inspiring business success stories ever. What do you think are the most important things in achieving your goals?
Sara Blakely: Find the opportunity in the everyday. I believe that most Americans have at least one million-dollar idea in their life, but most of us are so distracted and quick to disregard our own creative instinct that we either dismiss it or don’t even see its potential. Trust your gut! What you don’t know can be your greatest asset. Let it empower you, not intimidate you. It just means you will probably do it differently than how everyone else has been doing it. And don’t be afraid to fail—failure is life’s way of nudging you to keep you on the right path.
ES: What is your biggest challenge as a mother?
SB: Learning to balance everything! I went from having one full-time job to having two and had to learn how to be successful at both. I consider myself a work in progress.
ES: Your son is growing up in a very privileged environment. Is it important to you that he grows up as a “regular” kid?
SB: The biggest gifts I can give my son are the hunger to succeed and the appreciation of the value of a dollar. There’s joy in the accomplishment of doing something on your own, and I want to encourage that. My goal as a parent is that he finds his own passion.
ES: What are your favorite family activities to do with your son?
SB: We love to swim, go to the park, and the zoo. I think being outside is just as good for me as it is for him! We also take a Mommy and Me yoga class. As a mom, I like to be spontaneous, so we make an adventure out of every outing. I like to make everyday things fun, like making avocado “cupcakes” together for breakfast (it’s all in the marketing!) or reading at bedtime.
ES: How do you balance your work-home life?
SB: I’m more effective when I compartmentalize my day, so when I’m with my son, I’m focused on my son, and when I’m at work, I’m focused on work. My motto is: think, prioritize, delegate, and let go. And when mapping out your schedule, always include alone time for yourself! At home, my husband and I have a strict “no iPhones allowed at the table or in the bedroom” rule. It lets us focus on each other and Lazer and leave the stress of the day outside.
ES: What would you be doing if you weren’t running the billion-dollar Spanx empire?
SB: My friends call me a “frustrated beautician.” I was the girl who did everybody’s hair and makeup for prom. If Spanx didn’t exist, I would probably be a makeup artist.
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