My Favorite Mistake: Spanx Founder Sara Blakely
Blakely, Sara, Newsweek
Byline: Sara Blakely
On her mortifying moment at the BBC.
Within the first year of launching my company, Spanx, I decided to go over to England and cold-call Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Selfridges the same way I had cold-called Neiman Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale's here in the United States. It still was a very small company with one product, my footless pantyhose, which was a brand-new concept back then. I was trying to explain to people not only why they needed this product, but also what it could do for them. I called around and got some interest with local newspapers, magazines, radio, and the BBC agreed to interview me. It was a live interview that would reach more than a million people, and I was very nervous. The interviewer asked, "So Sara, tell us what Spanx can do for the women in the U.K." And I smiled really big and said, "Well, it's all about the fanny. It smooths your fanny, it lifts it, and it firms your fanny." I knew instantly I had done something seriously wrong because the interviewer had lost all the color in his face. He stopped me and said, "I think you mean bum." I said, "Yes, right, bum."
When I got off the air, I found out that fanny means vagina in England. It was a pretty funny marketing mistake. But what was so funny was I was trying to be British--I'm not someone who says fanny, but it sounded like such a British word to me. Apparently it is, I just had the wrong definition. This was in 2001, before YouTube, but I'm sure it would have gone on there if it had been around. I had to call back to all the people at Spanx, which at that time was two people in my apartment, and tell them our international expansion was off to a great start. …