Face Time: Sara Blakely

Spanx founder, comfort lover

November 9, 2012

No, undergarments don’t have the power to smooth over political differences or rein in the federal deficit. But thanks to Spanx — the mega hosiery company founded by Sara Blakely in 2000 — women (and some men) can lose belly bulges and rein in jiggly rear ends. The brand, which now sells a range of products including its namesake tush-toner (think control-top bike shorts made of pantyhose material), bras and active wear, just opened its first retail store — at Tysons Corner Center (1961 Chain Bridge Road, McLean, Va.; 703-848-8029). We caught up with Blakely just before Spanx opened its doors.

What’s the store like?
There’s a lot of whimsy, and it’s really interactive. Shapewear sounds easy to shop for, but a lot of women need guidance about what to wear under each garment. We try to walk them through it at the store.

You famously founded Spanx by cutting off a pair of pantyhose and wearing them under white pants. Were you surprised they took off?
Spanx filled a void between the thong and the heavy-duty shaper. There was a nation of women who wanted something to make clothes hang differently. My mantra was, “We put a man on the moon, we can make shapewear comfortable.”

So how are Spanx better than those “Man Men”-era girdles?
It’s all in the fit. It makes an enormous difference. Before Spanx, the industry hadn’t been sizing waistbands. They’d just put the same-size tiny, rubber cord in the waist, which could be really tight. But I said, “We’ve got Lycra now!” So we made them all about compression and target areas.

Should shapewear be pretty?
I don’t think it has to be. It’s the canvas you put your outfit over.

Is there one area that women worry about smoothing the most?
It depends on the woman. I invented Spanx because I have cellulite on my thighs. And after I had my son, my concern became my tummy. So it changes from woman to woman and from time to time.

Now Spanx also makes bras, tights and even tops that suck in your arms. How do you come up with this stuff?
It’s all happened organically. We test products on real women and ask them what they need. Our bras came about because women complained about back fat.

Spanx also sells toning garments for men. What sort of guy wears them?
It’s funny — our male customer is a guy who is in great shape who dresses well. But we were surprised to find that a lot of our customers were athletes who were wearing Spanx for lower-back support.

What haven’t you designed that people seem to want?
We get requests for full-body Spanx all the time!

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