A woman with a college degree, a job selling copiers and a deep frustration with panty lines, Sara Blakely began with a few thousand dollars in savings and built Atlanta-based Spanx, a $150-million enterprise.
The hosiery brand was born in 1998, when Blakely couldn't find a way to hide thong lines beneath a pair of white pants. Shapers were too bulky, and stockings precluded the strappy sandals she wanted to wear. So she cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose and tried to ignore the way the edges rolled up around her ankles. She then spent two years developing a prototype.
In 2000, Spanx products made it into high-end department stores. Today they come in 100 different styles, including bras.
Up next: A fashion icon raised by nuns.