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Interview: How Spanx became a billion-dollar undergarment empire

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, made Forbes magazine's list of top billionaires in the world by growing the undergarment company into a billion-dollar empire.

Blakely on the cover of Forbes magazine.

When Forbes magazine recently released its newest list of top billionaires in the world, one name stood out from the rest: Sara Blakely. Not only was the founder of the body-shaping company Spanx a newcomer to the list, she was also the youngest female self-made billionaire there, too.

In our latest Conversation from the Corner Office, host Kai Ryssdal sits down with Blakely to discuss the beginnings of what is now a billion-dollar empire. Blakely explains a humble start: She was a fax saleswoman who was dissatisfied with her pantyhose and undergarments.

"I had never taken a business class, I'd never worked in fashion or retail," she said. "I'm just like so many women -- I was frustrated, I had these white pants that I had spent a lot of money on, and you get home and you think, 'What am I really supposed to wear under this?' So it was a frustrated consumer moment."

From there, Blakely says she used her savings, got on the Internet and start hustling, sending out her homemade samples to Oprah and cold-calling department stores like Neiman Marcus. The company began to grow bit-by-bit, and never needed outside investment.

"It's just proof that the American Dream still exists, still can happen," she said.

Blakely goes on to talk about how she came to "hire her weaknesses" as colleagues in the company, why celebrities are big fans of Spanx, and what it's like to have people constantly flash her products at her on the street. Hear her stories and learn more about the amusing names of her products by listening to the full, extended interview above.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Blakely on the cover of Forbes magazine.

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I was driving home when I heard this interview. I got to know Sara when we were on study abroad program in London and I have to say that it doesn't sound like fame and fortune have changed her one bit. She sounds just as energetic, smart, positive, and upbeat now as she did when we were young adults. I'm very proud of her success, and glad to say that "I knew her when...!" Though if you'd asked me in 1990 if Sara would end up a billionaire on the cover of Forbes, I would have asked what you were smoking and could I have some? Great interview, thanks for the update on an old friend.

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