Video Transcript

00:09 Sara Blakely: Just like you and so many other women, we have these clothings that hang in our closet, unworn, because we can't figure out what to wear under it. So, what do you do? The options were not that great either. We had the traditional shapers that were so thick and left lines or bulges on the thigh, and then we had the underwear which leads a panty line, and then came along the thong, which still confuses me, 'cause all I did was put underwear exactly where we had been trying to get it out of. [laughter] So, I had this... I spent all my hard-earned money on this one pair of cream pants that hung there, and I decided to cut the feet out of control top pantyhose one day, and I threw them on under my white pants, and went to the party. I looked fabulous, I felt great, I had no panty lines, I looked thinner and smoother, but they rolled up my legs all night. And I remember thinking, "This should exist for women". I have to set the stage for you, on where I am in my life at this moment. I'd never taken a business class, I'd never worked in fashion or retail. I'd actually been selling fax machines door-to-door for seven years, since graduating from college, and I had $5,000 in savings. I'd just moved out of my mom's house, and I was dating a loser.

01:30 Blakely: So, my life is great. And so, I did not know where to go. Here I am, selling fax machines, door-to-door, and I had no one to turn to, or to ask. So, I actually went on the Internet, and I looked up "hosiery mills". And I found out that the bulk of hosiery in the United States is made in North Carolina, which I didn't realize. So I got on the phone, and I started calling all of these hosiery mills to, "Please help me make this idea of this footless, pantyhose-shaper concept". And everybody hung up the phone, or I couldn't even get the right person on the phone, and I tried that for several months with no luck. And at the same time, I liked my idea so much, that I wanted to protect it, so I decided to patent it. And I looked up in Martindale-Hubbell, which is list attorneys, I wanted to find a patent attorney in Georgia. Well, of course, I wanted to use a woman, I thought it would be much easier to explain my idea, and I couldn't find one. So, I called the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and I asked for a recommendation of a female patent attorney, and the Chamber of Commerce actually said there's not a single female patent attorney right now in the whole state of Georgia.

02:45 Blakely: So, I had to take my idea, I took my lucky red backpack with me on every step of the journey, and I went and met with three different law firms that I had looked up online. I presented my idea to them, you could see me trying to explain to the men how I'm gonna change the world, and make women's butts better, and that this is gonna be an idea that everyone would love. And the one attorney kept looking around the room, and I later found out why. He admitted to me, he said, "Sara, I thought when I first met you, that your idea was so bad that I thought you had been sent by Candid Camera." [laughter] I said, "Well, that explains why you were looking around the room". But all of the attorneys that I met with, they wanted between $3,000 and $5,000 to patent my idea. Well, I only had $5,000 total, in my savings, to do this idea. So I decided to write my own patent. And I went to Barnes & Noble on Peachtree Avenue in Atlanta, where I lived, and I bought a book called "Patents and Trademarks", and I started writing my patent.

03:51 Blakely: At the same time, I'm writing my patent, I'm still wanting to get this made. No one's talking to me on the phone, so I took a week off of work, at the company I was working for, and I drove around North Carolina in person, to try to convince somebody to help make my idea. And the first, I met with several hosiery mills, and they all asked the same question. I'd walk in to the mill with my lucky red backpack, and they would always say, "And you are... " And I'd say, "Sara Blakely". And they go, "And you're with... ", I'd say, "Sara Blakely". They go, "And you're financially backed by... ", and I go, "Sara Blakely". [laughter] And then they would always say, "Oh, it's so nice to meet you Sara Blakely, but we're not interested, have a nice day". And after cold-calling these mills for one week, I went back to Atlanta with no luck, and two weeks after I made that trip in person to all the hosiery mills, I got a phone call from one of the mill owners, and he said, from Charlotte, North Carolina, "Sara, I have decided to help make your crazy idea." And when I asked him why he had a change of heart, he simply said, "I have two daughters".

05:05 Blakely: So lucky for me, he ran the idea by his daughters, and they said, "Dad, this idea is actually brilliant, and makes sense. You should help this girl do it." And that set me on a journey of trying to make the prototype. As I'm making the prototype, which took me a year of working on it at night, and on the weekends, I learned so much as a consumer, that it never occurred to me. I kept talking to all these men, in the process of trying to make my product, and I remember thinking, "Where are the women? Why am I not speaking to any women here?" And then it dawned on me that maybe that's why our pantyhose had been so uncomfortable for so long because the people making them aren't wearing them, and if they are, they're not admitting it, [laughter] so, nobody really wanted to go there. And I learned that when you're making... When the industry was making the product, that they took the same size waistband and put it on every pair.

06:07 Blakely: So, a size small woman and a size extra-large woman was getting the same waistband, so that they could cut costs during production. And I also learned that they were putting a tiny rubber cord inside of our waistbands. Well, I immediately said, "Guys, this is not working. We have been miserable, we can't breathe, we're cutting our waistbands. A small woman wants a small waistband and a large woman wants a large waistband, it makes sense." So, with Spanx, all of the waistbands were sized accordingly and that was the first change I made.

06:36 Blakely: And the other thing I learned, is the way that they did sizing just blew me away. They had these plastic forms in their mill, and they would put the product up on the plastic form and they'd all stand back with their clipboards and go, "Yep, that's a medium." [laughter] I remember I leaned in, I'm like, "Ask her how she feels." [chuckle] And they just looked at me. I said, "How do you know? If this plastic form's not telling you in the middle of the day, it started binding, or it rolled or it didn't fit right?" So, with Spanx, I started testing my prototypes on real women, my mom, my grandmother, all my friends. And to this day, all of the Spanx products are obviously tested and worn by me and all of my friends and family and I really appreciate that honest feedback, it's what makes us better than what had existed out there.

07:23 Blakely: So, in making the product, I'm writing the patent, I'm moving the whole ball forward. I go back to the patent attorney and I say to him, "I have written the entire patent, I've drawn the abstract. My mom was an artist. She stood in our living room and drew the outline of my body, wearing the product 'cause you have to submit a picture with your patent. And I don't know how to write the legal claims portion for a discounted price, will you please do it?" And he said, "I still don't understand your idea. You're so passionate about it. I'll take a weekend and I'll do it for $700." So, I said "Great." I was thrilled and at the next part of that week, he called and he said, "Sara, I just need to speak to someone at the hosiery mill to get some technical information about your invention, that I don't know what to say or what to call the different yarns." I said, "No problem, let's call Ted." So, I got on the phone, we did a three-way call with my attorney and Ted at the hosiery mill.

08:21 Blakely: Well, I gotta tell you a little bit about Ted. Ted was so southern. And when I say "so southern", I mean, real southern. So, Ted's talking to my attorney, I'm on the phone and Ted is explaining what's in the Spanx product. And he goes "Well, there's 70% nylon and there's 30% lacquer." So my attorney and I are taking notes and I'm like "Ted, great, thank you so much!" And then we hung up the phone. And the night before I was submitting my patent to the US Patent and Trademark office, I could not sleep. I literally was up all night thinking to myself, "How is there lacquer in this product?" How is there lacquer in this product? So, I woke up in the morning and I called Ted and I said, "Ted, it's Sara. Can you spell lacquer?" And he's like "Yeah, L-Y-C-R-A." [laughter] "Oh my God, Lycra. Okay, Lycra, thank you." So I called my attorney and I said, "You gotta do an all-change on lacquer, it's Lycra." And he started laughing, he goes "Sara, do you know how fast you would've gotten a patent awarded to you on trying to make pantyhose out of paint thinner? [laughter] So, I actually submitted my own patent online and then I was finishing up the prototype, getting it made.

09:50 Blakely: I knew that I wanted to make a packaging, and I had never gone to class for this or anything, but as a consumer, I knew what I wanted and what I liked and didn't like. So, I went on my friend's computer. She had just graduated from graphic design school, and for the next couple months, every day, I'd come home from work and I would develop the packaging. I knew that I wanted my package to be red, and bold, and different because everything on the market was beige, and white, and gray, and had the same half-naked woman that had been on every package for the last 40 years. So, I said "I have no money to advertise. When I get my chance for this product to be on the shelf, it's gotta scream, "I'm new, I'm different, check me out."

10:35 Blakely: So, that's what I did and when I made the packaging red, no one had ever done that in the hosiery space. I mean, it was revolutionary to make a bright red package. And then I also did a bold step, that no one had ever done before, and I put three animated, illustrated girls on the front that looked totally different and that was revolutionary at the time, as well. And I remember, after I finished this masterpiece of a product and the packaging for myself, I thought, "I love it, it's perfect. It makes me feel like I'm buying a present for myself. I don't wanna feel dread when I go to buy hosiery or shape-wear. I wanna feel like I'm kind of treating myself to something", but I had no idea. I thought, "Is there supposed to be something on this package for legal reasons?" So, I went to the department store and I bought 10 different pair of pantyhose. I went back to my apartment and I put all 10 pair on the floor.

11:29 Blakely: And I remember if the same thing was on all 10 packages, thinking, "It must be legal." [chuckle] So, I added it. And I added the size chart and I added a few key things to the back of the package. I was off and running, but I needed a name. I had spent about a year and a half coming up with really bad names. In fact, the runner-up to Spanx was Open-toed Delilahs. You think I'd be standing here if I named it that? I don't think so.

12:00 Blakely: So, after a year and a half of bad names, I just decided to narrow down my thinking and this is how it happened. I knew at the time that Kodak and Coca-Cola were the two most recognized names in the world, so I started playing with them. What do they have in common? Why are these two names the most recognized in the world? And they both had a strong "k" sound in them. And then I read that the man who started Kodak liked the "k" sound so much that he put the "k" at the beginning and the end of his word, and started playing with letters in the alphabet in the middle to come up with the word Kodak.

12:34 Blakely: I also have friends that are stand-up comedians and it's this weird trade secret that the "k" sound will make your audience laugh. So, in that moment, I put all that together and said I want my invention to have the "k" sound in it and literally, almost spontaneously, I'm sitting in traffic in Atlanta, the word "spanks" came to me across my dashboard in traffic. I pulled up to the side of the road. I wrote it on a scrap piece of paper and I thought, "That's it." I went home that night and in between sitting in traffic and going home, I made a decision to change the "ks" to an "x" because I had done some research prior that made-up words do better for products than real words do and they're also easier to trademark.

13:12 Blakely: So, I went to my trusty website that I'd spent a lot of time on,, which I'm sure many of you know stands for United States Patent and Trademark Office dot government, and I typed in the word "Spanx", S-P-A-N-X. I typed in my credit card, and for $350.00, I was awarded the word "Spanx".