Storied Atlanta startup Spanx sells majority stake to investment firm

Billionaire founder Sara Blakely to remain in charge

Wall Street investment giant Blackstone has agreed to buy a majority interest in Atlanta’s Spanx, the popular undergarment and clothing brand founded by Sara Blakely.

The deal values Spanx at $1.2 billion and will leave Blakely with a significant financial stake and role in the company. When the transaction closes, the bootstrapping entrepreneur who started the company in her Virginia-Highland apartment will become executive chairwoman.

Blackstone also will leave in place Spanx’s executive management team to run daily operations, and the companies plan to create an all-female board of directors.

“This is a really important moment in time for female entrepreneurs,” Blakely said in a press release Monday. “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.”

Her business story has become the lore of entrepreneurial America. She was selling fax machines door to door 21 years ago when she started Spanx with $5,000 and a hope to create body-shaping undergarments for women. After getting prototypes made, she sold her first products in a few Nieman Marcus stores.

The garments became wildly successful, and Blakely rocketed into the financial stratosphere of self-made billionaires. Blakely has become one of Atlanta’s best-known business leaders and philanthropists, landing on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in the U.S. and Forbes magazine’s cover.

The Sara Blakely foundation has an emphasis on educating and helping women entrepreneurs. She signed the Giving Pledge, promising to donate half of her wealth. During the pandemic, she gave away $5 million in grants to female small business owners.

She and her husband, Jesse Itzler, are also partial owners of the Atlanta Hawks.

Blackstone said its investment will help Spanx — already a global brand which expanded into multiple clothing lines — to grow.