“Nobody was talking about undergarments until Madonna wore a bra on the outside.”
That’s Jan Singer, chief executive officer of Spanx, recalling Madonna’s iconic cone bra by Jean Paul Gaultier and suggesting it’s time to get the undergarment conversation going again. Why not put Spanx in the center of it?
This story first appeared in the March 3, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In the 15 years since Spanx was founded by Sara Blakely to help women rein in their bulges, the brand, while showing good growth with an estimated $300 million to $400 million in sales, has been perceived as a tummy-tucking commodity, and more often as the butt of a joke than a fashion statement. There’s also the sense that the shapewear company needs to get on firmer footing, amid rising competition from intimate, ath-leisure and active labels.
But since joining the company in July, Singer, formerly Nike’s corporate vice president of global apparel, has begun reshaping the Atlanta-based firm and its identity. She has reorganized 80 percent of top management with a slew of hires; redirected the product teams to put as much weight on fashion and comfort as on function, and fomented what she called a “consumer-centric” company culture.
In an interview on the game plan, Singer said she’s moving the Spanx brand image from “occasional wear” to “everyday wear.” Translation: Spanx can mean more in the daily lives of women than just something they put on for a wedding and stow away for months until the next special occasion.
“Women are saying, ‘I need something more comfortable,’” Singer said. Spring products are “lightweight, comfortable, breathable and super-effective — and it has to be beautiful,” she added. “There’s no function without beauty. We are evolving the product, modernizing it. The consumer is changed. Not everyone wants to be super-squeezed in.”
In March, the Power Series collection, including shaping shorts and high-waisted panties, gets relaunched. “The original products that Sara made have all been reformulated and repackaged, with greater performance and higher aesthetics and an emphasis on lightweight comfort,” Singer said.
The company is still owned by Blakely, who could one day try to sell it or take it public. In addition to Singer, other new management includes Lisa Hawkins, formerly senior vice president of marketing, media, events and education at Christian Dior, who was named Spanx’s chief marketing officer this month. Earlier, Beverly House, who held senior design roles at Aéropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret, was named executive vice president of product. Mala Brindisi, formerly Abercrombie’s group vice president of sourcing, was named executive vice president of sourcing and manufacturing. Dan Glennon, formerly with Larson-Juhl, the Berkshire Hathaway custom framing company, was named chief financial officer. Jill MacRae, a Spanx executive, shifted to executive vice president of global commerce and sales, and John Berger became vice president of human resources after posts at Sonic Restaurants and Collective Brands.
In the spring, the company will relocate to larger facilities in Atlanta.
Among the recent recruits, “The eye on the consumer was really missing,” said Singer, explaining why she decided to overhaul management. “Spanx needed to get back into deeply understanding the consumer” and their product concerns. She said a senior merchandising leader is expected to be hired soon.
The Kramer Design Group has become the agency of record and is working on a re-branding strategy involving a retail format, packaging and messaging. “We are refining the voice and infusing it through all of the touch points. The brand must translate across multiple platforms — digital, social media and retail,” said Robin Kramer, president of Kramer Design. “[Blakely] always had a dialogue with her customers and understood what they needed and that sometimes it’s not just about squeezing into a smaller size. It’s also about smoothing. She created this easy dialogue that no one else was having.” Kramer noted that Spanx has to elevate its image with greater fashion appeal, colors and styles, while still being “authentic, honest and supporting women,” literally and figuratively.
Changes at Spanx stores —there are 10 stand-alone stores and three airport units — and in other stores where Spanx is sold will be seen. Spanx is sold in Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, Harrods, Galeries Lafayette, La Rinascente and Selfridges, among other retailers spread across 50 countries.
Asked how the retail presentation could be improved, Singer replied: “It starts with simplifying the navigation so we can serve the consumer. Our goal is to simplify product selection based on silhouette and type of solution — smoothing, shaping or sculpting — without confusion. We are doing this by shifting from a 100 percent collection mentality to a key item strategy, ensuring we have game-changing innovations that lead the industry and categories. We have already shifted the navigation on the Web and are moving toward the same direction in our retail doors. Our plan is to partner with wholesale customers to maintain branded presence and create an elevating experience for our consumer.”
Singer also said the training process at Spanx stores and with wholesale partners is being “reset” with a strategy that “brings the best from the beauty industry, as they are leaders in terms of service and training, to the forefront of intimate, hosiery and apparel for Spanx and our wholesale partners. We’ll do this with a new lens on sales training, education and the manner in which we energize the teams.
“Sara began her career selling fax machines door-to-door, and after launching Spanx, stood for hours selling on every wholesale floor, connecting to the consumer to show her the visible difference Spanx made using her own butt, in before-and-after pictures. This concept is ingrained in our culture. Our strategy is getting back to these roots, engaging and listening to consumers on the sales floor in order to understand demons and continue to solve her problems.”
Singer said the shaper was originally invented to reduce visible panty lines. “Today, we know it does much more than that and are excited to launch a reformulation” of the “Power Series” with “lighter, more breathable [products] with a softer feel and nearly 100 percent seamless design for zero distractions, lumps or bumps.” The “Power Series” packaging, she noted, has been redesigned for “fast and intuitive product selection” and with Blakely’s handwriting for a stronger connection to the founder.
In addition to slimming apparel, swimsuits, bras, activewear and men’s undershirts and underwear, the company has recently expanded into active, jeans/bottoms and Spanx for Men. Rather than launching additional categories, Singer said, “Right now we are focusing on our core. We need to continue to own her body, from the bottom up, which includes intimates and hosiery products.”