Eavesdrop in almost any store dressing room and you are sure to hear these words as clothes are being tried on, "With Spanx it will be perfect." The whittling wonder body shaper line has become a staple in most lingerie drawers. And despite the continued debate over whether prolonged use of shapewear can be harmful to your body organs, the mainstream makeover from bumpy to smooth has made Spanx one of the business wonders of the world. On Thursday it was an elbow-to-elbow room crowd at New England's first Spanx store that opened at Westfarms Mall. Sara Blakely, the 43-year-old business mogul who invented the line, has given underwear a mainstream shove since introducing her first power panties 14 years ago. One of the world's most well known billionaires and a Forbes list fav, the married mother of one who lives in Connecticut has expanded the product line to include men's shapewear and proved once again that necessity is the mother of some of the best inventions.
Those attending Thursday's grand opening were treated with a "freebie" from the Spanx "Tower of Power," and some one-on-one guidance from staff at Blakely's fifth store. While the queen of "power" could not be there, she did share her tale of turning a personal need for some slimming underpinnings into the multi-billion dollar business it has become as she Spilled the Beans with Java in a phone interview prior to the opening.
Q: Did you ever imagine your invention would, pardon the pun, take off like this?
A: I have had so many funny moments in dressing rooms where I can hear women in the next cubicle trying on things and saying 'I just need Spanx' with this. I have to smile because when I ripped up that first pair of panty hose to come up with something to wear under my pants, I knew I was onto something. The business has definitely exceeded my wildest dreams. The funny thing is, in the first two years of me creating Spanx, all I heard was "no" from everyone. But I knew what they did for my own body and figured there had to be other women that would like something that was lightweight, comfortable, and did the job under clothes. I didn't have a bunch of ideas up my sleeve. I started with one product idea and now, here we are 14 years later.
Q: I remember a time when "shape wear" had a less than whimsical connotation. And certainly was anything but, again no pun intended, when it came to sharing with anyone that you were wearing a little help under your clothes. Why and how do you think Spanx broke that not-so-supportive bad rep?
A: The name Spanx is fun. I wanted a sense of humor to it and it has become a grounding connection for women and men who wear Spanx. I think there is an authenticity to it and frankly, I have promoted the line with my own rear end on the line to advertise it. So I guess you could say I put my butt on the line for it.
Q: So what is the secret when it comes to Spanx "shaping the world, one woman'' (and man since introducing that line) at a time?
A: The secret is the way the garment is made and to be very vague, it is the way we fit Spanx and the way it is knitted. It's a secret sauce and ever one tries to knock off our product but they haven't. When I first invented Spanx, I had never taken a business class or worked in retail. But I watched the manufacturing process and wondered why waist bands were all the same size to cut costs, no matter what, and how could they know how it was working and feeling using a plastic form? We have sizes to our waistbands and we did away with this rubber cord most shape wear manufacturers were using because you don't need it anymore because of the Lycra products available now. There were a lot of things I learned quickly including what felt good and what worked.
Q: What is your favorite Spanx product, the one you could not go without?
A: The power panties, the footless ones that I wear under all my capris and spring pants. And the Bra-llelujah.
Q: Some would argue women should just get in shape instead of using underwear to make up for the deficit. What is your counter-argument?
A: That hasn't been the case with me or the customer I know. Think of your undergarments as the canvas. You need a smooth canvas before you can paint and it's not about being in shape or out of shape. Everyone can have a panty line or a bulge. Spanx has never been an alternative to being healthy. For me, it's about a better cleaner solution to wearing clothes well.
Q: What can people find in the store that they can't find in your catalogue? And why did you choose Connecticut for your first New England store?
A: I chose Connecticut and New England because people are fabulous and we have a big following of devoted customers from this area. Not just for shapewear but for our active wear. As far as the store, you can get one-on-one care from us. The feeling in the store is not judgmental. We don't care what size she is, we just want her to go out as a confident woman, girlfriend to girlfriend.
Q: You have become a business icon. What is your advice to other women with an idea?
A: Trust your gut. What you don't know can be your greatest asset. In our society a lot of people think what you don't know is a negative. That can be a gift. I knew so little about how what I wanted to do was supposed to be done and that is why Spanx solved problems better than any other product. In the beginning, I didn't tell anyone my idea and kept it a secret because I didn't want anyone to dissuade me. Women need to trust themselves and their gut. It is a great compass.