On Thursday, founder Sara Blakely said Blackstone’s majority stake in the now $1.2 billion shapewear empire she birthed more than two decades ago with $5,000 in savings marks a “really important moment in time for female entrepreneurs.”
“I started this company with no business experience and very little money, but I cared the most about the customer, and that gave me the courage to launch the company,” said Blakely, who retains a “significant” equity stake and will become Spanx’s executive chairwoman.
Prior to the private equity firm’s majority stake, Spanx had been weighing its options, and even mulled putting itself up for sale, with Goldman Sachs’ investment banking arm on the case since June.
Valued at $1.9 billion last year, per Grand View Research, the shapewear market has exploded since Spanx first burst onto the scene at the turn of the century. Kim Kardashian West, infamous for her figure-hugging ensembles, brought her formidable following to the fore in 2019 when Kanye West’s soon-to-be-ex-wife launched Skims—and subsequently hoovered up millions. British upstart Heist brought a new perspective to innerwear in 2015. The rise of social media, and the pressure many women feel to look flawless in photos that live online, could be a factor in shapewear’s growth trajectory.
And while Spanx made a name for itself in silhouette-smoothing shapewear worn by Katy Perry, Rebel Wilson, Khloe Kardashian, and Karlie Kloss, it has since branched out into products like shaping denim and a full array of lifestyle apparel from loungewear, leggings, bras and underwear to skirts, “arm tights” and maternity wear. There’s even a little something for men, who can shop “ultra-compression” sculpting tees and tanks, shape-enhancing boxer briefs and socks.
The Atlanta employer of roughly 750 has some additional tricks up its sleeve, pledging to use Blackstone’s investment to penetrate “even more categories.” The deal, it added, would also support its digital footprint and broaden its global reach.
There was no word on whether the brand, which relies on wholesale partners like Nordstrom and Macy’s in addition to its own direct-to-consumer site, would try its hand once more at running its own brick-and-mortar business after a failed experiment several years ago when it had at least four stores.
While Spanx’s success afforded Blakely the title of Forbes’ youngest self-made female billionaire, the company has faced some bumps in the road. In 2016, Nike veteran Jan Singer exited the shapewear firm after less than two years into the CEO seat, prompting Blakely to resume a more active role after previously stepping away. The seasoned retail expert, who later served as the chief executive at J.Crew and Victoria’s Secret, was asked to transform Spanx from a product women wear for special occasions to a company making garments for everyday use.
Blackstone’s new ownership stake via Blackstone Growth and Blackstone Tactical Opportunities furthers its interest in promoting female-led businesses, including online dating app Bumble, Reese Witherspoon’s mission-driven media company Hello Sunshine, telecommunications firm Hotwire Communications and geolocation compliance technology firm GeoComply. Ann Chung, Blackstone’s global head of consumer, led an all-female Blackstone investment team managing the Spanx deal, which is subject to customary closing conditions.
Chung described Blakeley, who in 2013 signed the Giving Pledge promising to donate half her wealth to philanthropy, as an “iconic businesswoman” and “symbol of authenticity, confidence building and female empowerment.”
“We’re honored that Sara and her team have placed their trust in Blackstone as their partner of choice to further accelerate Spanx’s digital transformation and growth, and look forward to what the business will achieve with our full set of resources behind it,” she added.
The companies said they plan to create an all-female board “as they align to help empower women globally.”
“At Spanx, we have always put the customer at the center of what we do,” Blakely said. “I am as excited today for the future of Spanx as I was when I started it 21 years ago. Now together with Blackstone, we will have even more opportunity to further our mission of making the world a better place… one butt at a time.”