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www.mybaycity.com March 20, 2012
Columns Article 6852

Billionaire Spanx Founder Sara Blakely Has Bay City Connection

March 20, 2012       Leave A Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Sara Blakely
 

America's first self-made female billionaire is a 41-year-old entrepreneur whose grandfather the late Charlie Ford was the owner of Ford Clothing Co. in Bay City.

Sara Blakely recently was named by Forbes Magazine as the nation's first self-made female billionaire through her slimming pantyhose and other Spanx shapewear products.

Sara's mother is Ellen Ford, the only child of Charles Kelton and Morrow Weber Ford, of Bay City. Ellen married attorney John Blakely after her graduation from the University of Michigan. She and John Blakely, who are divorced, also have a son, Ford Blakely. Ellen Ford Blakely is an artist in Florida.

Sara Blakely grew up in Clearwater Beach, Florida, and was graduated from Florida State University, Tallahassee.

Sara Blakely wanted footless body shaping pantyhose to wear with her cream-colored pants and open-toed shoes, but couldn't find them anywhere. Blakely took $5,000 in savings and began her adventure in the $2 billion male-dominated hosiery industry.

Two years later, with her first pair of patented footless pantyhose in hand, Blakely cold-called top retail stores across the country and got their business.

Selling over 50,000 pair in its first three months from the back of her apartment, Sara Blakely's SPANX revitalized an industry. Her SPANX footless pantyhose even captured the attention of Oprah Winfrey and landed on Oprah's "Favorite Things" list.

Morrow Ford said the "Oprah" visit with Sara was "fabulous, she did really well. I'm so proud of her."

Sara's hometown Belleair Bee wrote in 2007: "No one is more proud of the 35-year-old blond-haired beauty than her mother, Ellen Blakely, and her grandmother, Morrow Ford, both of whom live in Belleair and who were in the "Oprah" audience for Blakely's big surprise announcement.

"Sara sent a private jet to pick us up," said Ford, who lived in Belleair for 28 years with her husband, Blakely's grandfather, Charlie Ford. Sara affectionately refers to them as Nannie and Gaga and she credits them with playing a big part in her success story. (Note: Charlie Ford died in 2009 at age 87 in Belleair.)

Grateful for her own good fortune, Blakely's vision is to empower women around the world, wrote Chary Southmayd of the Belleair Bee.

Spanx has developed and launched more than 60 styles - with names like Bra-llelujah, Two Timin' Tights, Power Panties, Slim-Cognito, and Topless Socks - all designed to be innovative, comfortable, slimming, and stylish.

If you haven't seen Blakely flashing her SPANX on QVC, you may have seen her jumping off of a cliff or sharing tea with Richard Branson 10,000 feet in the sky. Blakely appeared weekly on Fox, setting daring world-records, meeting Nelson Mandela, and leading successful business challenges as a cast member on The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best. As the first runner-up on the show, Blakely received a $750,000 check from Branson to pursue her dream to start a foundation to empower women.

Spanx continues to show increasing profits, celebrating $85 million in retail sales in 2005 and hitting $150 million by 2007. Spanx are sold in America's finest upscale stores and boutiques in the U.S., including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, and Parisian, as well as upscale boutiques and retailers in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.

With the launch of ASSETS by Sara Blakely, a new brand exclusive to Target, the shapewear revolution will reach new heights. Blakely is thrilled to give better underwear options to women everywhere and to give back. A portion of each ASSETS purchase will go to The Sara Blakely Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting and empowering women around the world.

Blakely's story and Spanx products have been featured on everything from The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, Forbes, E!, and Glamour to Vogue, People, InStyle, New York Times, Vanity Fair, WWD, and USA Today. Blakely has been named Ernst & Young's Southeast Regional Entrepreneur of the Year and Georgia's "Woman of the Year."

Sara also sat on the panel of judges on the hit TV show, American Inventors, created by Simon Cowell.

Blakely is a native of Clearwater, Florida, and a graduate of Florida State University.

Obsessed with creating comfortable, slimming garments that minimize figure flaws, Sara has created more than 200 problem-solving products and recently entered the bra business with the ground-breaking Bra-llelujah!®

In 2006 Sara brought her shapewear know-how to more women with the national launch of ASSETS®, a collection of shapewear and legwear designed to help women achieve their own red carpet look for less.

In 2009 Sara launched Haute Contour by SPANX®, the dessert of shapewear. Today, after many years of demand, Spanx brings their industry expertise to the pool and the beach with swimwear and to men with a redefined compression undershirt.

Since launching the Sara Blakely Foundation in late 2006, Sara has contributed well over $1 million to causes supporting women. As an entertaining and sought-after speaker, Sara shares her story to inspire people to follow their dreams.

Sara and her husband Jesse Itzler reside in Atlanta and New York with their baby boy, Lazer. ###

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Columns Article 6852
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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at carraroe@aol.com)

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