But it was very, very hard to keep my spirits, and mindset, in the right place. I would listen to motivational tapes all the time in my car—from people like Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, and Wayne Dyer—that would help me get the courage to step back into the next office building. I was getting escorted out of buildings by security, I was having people rip up my business card in my face a couple times a week. It was really intense. But it was laying the groundwork for Spanx. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was really laying the blueprint for me to be able to invent something the way that I did. Because while trying to get something made with no expertise, no background in it, and not knowing a single contact in the industry—I heard the word “no” a lot. But I was so trained to not let that stop me, that I think that’s really part of why Spanx exists.
Own your desire for success.
Two years before I cut the feet out of my pantyhose to solve an undergarment issue [the initial inspiration for Spanx] I had literally written down in my journal, after one really bad day of selling fax machines, “I’m going to invent a product that I can sell to millions of people that will make them feel good.” I asked the universe to deliver the idea to me. And for two years after that I still sold fax machines. Then one day I cut the feet out of my pantyhose, and thought, “Maybe this is my big idea.” So that’s how that happened. I just thought, “Okay, this might be my idea that I asked for. I’m going to explore this idea.”
Then I told myself, “This is crazy, Sara.” I mean, there are billion-dollar companies where people sit around all day thinking up new products. There must be a reason they didn’t think of this one. If it’s such a good idea, why doesn’t it already exist? I played a lot of mental tag with myself; going back and forth between, “You should give this a go.” Then, “No, you’re crazy, don’t bother.” But I continued to fight through the negative self-talk and the self-doubt. And I think so much of that was listening to people talk about how to control your own mindset. But that doesn’t mean I never have moments of doubt. I’m 20 years into my Spanx journey. I still have those thoughts.
Believe in yourself, even if nobody else does.
When I started my company, I’d reach out to hosiery mills—which were all run by men—asking them to manufacture Spanx. I called them all on the phone at first, and they all pretty much gave me the run around. So I took a week off of work and drove around to all these manufacturing plants that were all mostly concentrated in North Carolina. I had my lucky red backpack from college with me, and I would walk in, and they would always ask me the same three questions. They would always say, “And you are?” And I would say, “Sara Blakely.” And they’d say, “And you’re with?” And I’d say, “Sara Blakely.” And then they’d say, “You’re financially backed by?” And I’d say, “Sara Blakely.”
Some of them would just escort me out and say, “We’re not interested.” But the way that I handled it was that I used very definitive, confident language. If you’re only given 30 seconds or a minute to try to make your pitch, you need to also figure out how you can make it about who you’re presenting your idea to, and what’s in it for them. So I did that all along the way of my journey. I would say, “I’ve invented a product that’s going to definitively change the way women wear clothes. It’s going to end up becoming an enormous program for you. You have to give me the chance for this to happen. I have total confidence that you’ll end up getting a great amount of business from making this decision.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Samantha Leach is the associate culture editor at Glamour. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @_sleach.