Are high heels Spanx’s next product?

Feb 12, 2014

By Colleen Leahey, reporter

FORTUNE -- Smoothing tums and bums since its founding in 2000, shapewear retailer Spanx has solved countless women's maddening fashion problems. Its core products help the lumpiest of stomachs fit smoothly beneath form-fitting ensembles -- and that simple but successful mission roots the company's expanding array of products. The company's four lines (Spanx, Star Power, Red Hot Label, and Assets) feature staples like toeless pantyhose -- as well as newer offerings such as menswear, dresses, denim leggings, and even hair ties. What's next for the famed brand? Maybe, just maybe, shoes.

On Monday, Spanx founder Sara Blakely announced that CEO Laurie Ann Goldman, who's been with the company since 2002, is stepping down. Goldman joined Spanx when there were just five employees, and her previous 10-year run at Coca-Cola taught her brand-building basics, which she used to grow Spanx into a multi-hundred-million-dollar hosiery empire. Her unexpected departure raises questions about an eventual IPO or differing strategies between her, Blakely, and the board.

Most interesting is the appointment of interim CEO Gregg Ribatt, whose expertise lies in footwear. His resume lists stints as EVP and COO at Bennett Footwear, CEO and president at Stuart Weitzman Holdings, and president and CEO of Collective Brands' Performance & Lifestyle Group, where he oversaw brands such as Sperry Topsider, Saucony, Stride Rite, and Keds.

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In October, Blakely told Fortune her ultimate goal is to invent a "comfortable high heel, and then retire." Blakely's inventions are comfortable for Spanx customers on either physical or emotional levels. (Let's be honest, not all of those slimming undergarments feel amazing after a few hours -- but they sure do boost confidence.) Continuing down that path, no matter the product type, isn't so far-fetched for Blakely. "I was inspired to move into all categories of fashion eventually because there was so much opportunity to make things more comfortable, fit better, feel better," she said of starting Spanx. "I know [inventing a comfortable high heel] can be done. I always say we put a man on the moon, I know we can do this. So that is in the horizon. I’m very determined."

Ribatt knows how to build, scale, clean up, and sell brands; in 2012, Wolverine Worldwide acquired PLG for $1.24 billion.
Women's Wear Daily
reported Tuesday that Ribatt will remain in Boston, rather than move to Spanx's Atlanta headquarters, and he'll help the board find a new CEO. Whether that new chief will have footwear experience to help Blakely's ultimate dream come true is TBD. (The company says Ribatt's experience is merely a coincidence, and he has advised Spanx for some time.) But I think I speak for all women -- everywhere, ever -- when I say that if Blakely can do for heels what she did for tights, we will all be eternally grateful.

Hear more from Blakely about starting Spanx, her relationship with former CEO Laurie Ann Goldman, and what's next for the company:

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