Spanx founder Sara Blakely was a door-to-door fax machine salesperson who was miserable with her life when she wrote in her journal, "I want to come up with an idea that I can sell to millions of people."
Shortly after that, the quest to find what to wear under white pants gave her that idea she was looking for. At the age of 27, she walked into a department store shapewear section and was unhappy with all her options. Frustrated, she went home and cut the feet off her control-top pantyhose. Spanx was born.
Blakely found a textile mill to make a prototype and then spent a year refining the product so that it wouldn't slip or roll up. Then she took those door-to-door sales skills and went to department store buyers with her product, often modeling the "before" and "after" effect herself to make her point. Neiman Marcus agreed to carry the product and by 2000, Oprah Winfrey had named it to her annual "Favorite Things" list. From there, business boomed.
Today, Spanx is sold in over 50 countries and is in every major department store in the United States. The company has branched out beyond its original product, into bras, workout wear, and even men's undershirts.
Blakely herself is now a self-made billionaire and she's paying it back with her Sara Blakely Foundation, which is dedicated to education and entrepreneurship for women. Blakely says she knows how it feels to be sitting at home with a great idea, waiting for it to be discovered, so the foundation is helping women get their ideas out there by featuring inventions in the Spanx catalog.
Blakely herself feels lucky and proud to be where she is. She says she's overcome obstacles and used them to her own advantage. "Every day, I'm thrown lemons," she says, "and it's how do you make it lemonade? It's an old saying, but it's so true. I mean I turned cellulite, my own cellulite, okay? There's a negative for you. And look what I did with it. "