Spanx and Entrepreneurial Diversity

Whilst Marilyn Monroe was pretty vehement in her belief that diamonds were a girl’s best friend, for many of my forty (cough) something female friends, we’d have to contest that it was actually SPANX. A lot less glamourous, perhaps, but pretty much guaranteed to make most women feel more body confident. Hands up – I was definitely – in marketing parlance, an early adopter.

The SPANX story is also one of a determined woman succeeding with the odds stacked against her, taking her idea of footless pantihose as the ultimate body shaper to the world, despite obstacles galore. Fed up with ‘control’ underwear that left bulges in all the wrong places, one night she snipped the feet of a pair of control tights, stuck them under her eveningwear, and lo and behold, the idea for SPANX was born.

20 years ago, no US hosiery manufacturers wanted to touch her idea (until the owner of one company spoke to his daughters and they told him he MUST help her make the prototype). She couldn’t find a single female patent attorney in her home state of Georgia – because, 20 years ago, there weren’t any – so she went out of state to find one who would support her. When she turned up at banks she was asked ‘who are you with?’ ‘Who are you funded by?’ ‘Whose idea was it’ and when she said it was hers, as a woman, doors immediately shut.

A few weeks ago, Sara Blakely became the youngest self-made billionaire, selling Spanx for an estimated £1.2 billion. To celebrate, she bought every employee two first class flights to any destination of their choice and gave each of them $10,000 spending money. A long way from selling fax machines door to door and calling round uninterested hosiery manufacturers.

Though things have changed a lot in 20 years, it remains an extraordinary statistic that although 50% of entrepreneurial businesses are founded by women, still only 2.8% of VC (venture capital) funding goes to women. 

Part of our mission at Sussex Innovation is to have not only economic, but social and environmental impact with targets to support more minority groups and level the playing field so that entrepreneurs from all sorts of backgrounds can access and benefit from support. 

If you’re a female run business looking for funding – Watch This Space! – we’ll be announcing the relaunch of our Ventures arm Suss Ventures shortly. 

If you’re at the start of your journey – connect with our female founders group HERE to become part of a supportive, collaborative group of entrepreneurial women.

To be part of our 100 stories podcast project – register HERE.

And if you’d like to take advantage of our FULLY FUNDED upcoming 2-day HOTHOUSE great accelerator course covering the key things you’ll need to know to make your business a success, from Sales & Marketing strategy to creating the perfect team, leveraging research & insight to give you the edge over your competitors, impending environmental guidelines your business will need to follow etc., then register HERE  

Because there’s a lot of room in the world for more than one Sara Blakely…