As a child, Sara Blakely was advised to fail. The founder of Spanx, a $150m hosiery company, she says it was the best advice she ever received.

Her embrace of failure carried her through her early career, including sales, lawyer training and even a failed attempt in her application to be Goofy at Disney World.

Sara Blakely had been selling fax machines and office copiers door-to-door for seven years when she had an idea for a clothing line that would transform her from an employee into a successful entrepreneur. In a moment of inspiration, Blakely, frustrated with her “unsightly panty lines”, cut the feet off a pair of panty hose that she could wear under her white pants with a pair of open-toed sandals, and thus a primitive version of Spanx was born.

Blakely, who had originally hoped to be a trial attorney before failing the LSAT, plowed $5,000 of her own money into getting a prototype made over the next two years. In 2000 she began selling Spanx in major department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Not long after, she received a call from Oprah Winfrey, who had fallen for the body slimming, toeless panty hose and wanted to feature Spanx on her annual favourite things show.

Today, Spanx, based in Atlanta, is a $150m company with 55 employees and 100 different styles. This month, Blakely will unveil a new product line: the Bra-llelujah, billed as a comfortable all-hosiery bra.

Key achievements

  • In 2012 Blakely was named in Time magazine’s “Time 100” annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
  • Making the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people, as the world’s then youngest self-made female billionaire.
  • As of 2014, she is listed as the 93rd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

Lessons for your store

  1. Fail regularly – when Sara was growing up her father would ask her every day if she failed at anything, and would hi-five her if she did. She says it’s one of the best lessons she’s ever had.
  2. Have confidence – believe in the product you sell.
  3. Take responsibility – don’t fob the blame off to someone else if you fail.