Spanx CEO and founder Sara Blakely.
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Sara Blakely, the CEO and founder of the shapewear brand Spanx, announced today that she is giving $5 million to support female-run small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
“My hope is that this gift will help alleviate some of the pressures caused by this horrible pandemic. I know first hand what it’s like to be a small business owner. As a woman it can be lonely and scary, especially during a time like this. Small business is the backbone of our culture and I want to help,” she wrote in an Instagram post.
GlobalGiving will be overseeing the Red Backpack Fund, making 1,000 grants of $5,000 each to female entrepreneurs in the U.S. The fund name alludes to her “lucky” red backpack from college that she used when she started Spanx. “It’s a nod to starting small while dreaming big and is also a reminder that everything you need to succeed is right there on your back,” Blakely wrote. A red backpack is the symbol for the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation and her original “lucky” red backpack is framed at the Spanx headquarters in Atlanta.
In addition to the financial gift, each woman will receive her own “lucky” red backpack and the online education platform MasterClass is giving all of the women a free annual All-Access Pass to their classes, including Blakely’s entrepreneurship class. “My hope is that with this funding and mentorship, you’ll find support and comfort during this time. It’s been my greater mission in life to empower and elevate women, and when you help a woman fulfill her potential…magic happens,” Blakely wrote.
Blakely started her billion-dollar business 20 years ago. The then 27-year-old had been selling fax machines door-to-door for seven years and was forced to wear pantyhose for work. She noticed that the control-top eliminated panty lines and made her look svelte. One day, she cut a pair of pantyhose to wear under a pair of white pants, “But they rolled up my legs all night. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to make this.’ I’d never worked in fashion or retail. I just needed an undergarment that didn’t exist,” she previously told Forbes. It was the inspiration for Spanx. Blakely has since been on the cover of Forbes and on the America’s Richest Self-Made Women list.
“$5,000 is what I started Spanx with 20 years ago, and my hope is that by giving this money, it will not only help them, it will also help their families and their employees,” she said in her Instagram post. “They took a bet on themselves, these women, and during this time I want to bet on them.”