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Women in retail

The Forbes Billionaires List and the BRW Australia’s Richest Women List includes three self-made women with one thing in common – their fortunes were inspired by creating fashion items uniquely designed for women. While the retail sector is reporting a slump in sales, these women are making fortunes by listening carefully to their female clientele.

Sara Blakely (USA) – Spanx

At only 42, Sara Blakely is now officially a billionaire and it all started with her wish to find an under garment that would flatter her body while wearing white pants. Only 13 years ago she invested her life savings of $5,000 to make her first sample – now the Spanx brand is stocked in most major department stores around the world. She has also started opening her own stores. She was given a significant early leg-up from fellow billionaire Oprah Winfrey who listed Spanx as one of her favourite things. Sara still maintains 100 percent ownership of the business, which turns over $250 million a year at a reported 20 percent profit. 

Why do women love Spanx? We no longer need to call them “girdles” do we? Wearing Spanx under certain items of clothes just keeps everything in place. Blakey understood that women like to look as sleek and slim as possible and maintain wardrobes through the expansions and contractions of body shape. I have a few pair in my drawer and while I don’t need them at the moment, a carbohydrate-rich winter is on the way, so I’m sure they will make an appearance come July.


LornaJane Clarkson (Australia) – Lorna Jane 

While not a billionaire, Lorna Jane Clarkson is reportedly worth $40 million. Working as a full time dental technician and part-time aerobic instructor in Cairns, she saw a gap in the market for fashion gym gear. That was 20 years ago and today the business reports over $100 million turnover, has 122 stores and global expansion into South Africa and the USA. The business took on a major private equity investor in 2010 but Lorna Jane remains the Chief Creative Officer. 

The brand has struck a chord with women through its move, nourish, believe mantra. This encourages women to move their body every day, nourish from the inside out, and believe in themselves and that anything is possible if you work hard enough.


Tory Burch (USA) – Tory Burch Fashion

Tory Burch is best known for her ballet flats, but the Tory Burch range now includes most categories in fashion. Launched in 2004, the range quickly became popular with American women who were looking for a bohemian and eclectic look, rather than the minimalist fashion that was available at the time. Her first store in New York was designed to look like a room in her house rather than a shop. If you imagine a more upmarket Anthropologie, you’re getting close. 

Today the business turns over a reported $800 million in annual revenue and Burch herself owns a 28.3 percent stake. Her ex-husband recently sold his 28.3 percent share and now the business is owned by a number of minority investors. 

The range is not represented in Australia so we tested the online site and purchased a pair of ballet flats, a skirt and a tee shirt. It’s easy to see why this is such a big business. The cuts are flattering, fabrics are well selected and the webshop is very easy to navigate. However the $55 delivery fee is one of the most expensive we’ve encountered. Pus if your purchase does not fit (as was the case with the shoes), you need to send them back at your cost (an extra $40) and then pay again for the delivery ($55 again). Buying from seems to be the best bet as delivery is free (until the end of March 2013) and your package normally arrives within a week. Visit:

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