Portfolio Insights

Behind the Deal: Blackstone’s Investment in SPANX

Our all-woman deal team shares a behind-the-scenes look at Blackstone’s recent investment in the mission-driven womenswear brand founded by Sara Blakely.

From left: Jessica Parry, Rosa Morona, Kelley Morrell, Ann Chung, Katie Storer.

In 2021, Blackstone announced a majority investment in SPANX, the revolutionary womenswear brand founded by Sara Blakely. The acquisition was the culmination of an unprecedented journey for SPANX and Blakely, who started the company in 2000 with $5,000 in savings, writing her own patent and inventing the first SPANX undergarment in her apartment. 

We sat down with the Blackstone professionals who led the deal—Ann Chung, Kelley Morrell, Katie Storer, Jessica Parry and Rosa Morona—to learn more about their experience as an all-woman deal team working with a powerhouse entrepreneur.

Ann Chung is a Managing Director and Global Head of Consumer for Blackstone Growth based in New York. Since joining Blackstone in 2020, Ms. Chung has led investments in Oatly, Weee!, Supergoop! and Walker Edison. Ms. Chung currently serves on the Board of Directors of Oatly and Walker Edison.

Kelley Morrell is a Senior Managing Director and the Head of Asset Management for Blackstone’s Private Equity businesses. In this role, she oversees the U.S. team of asset managers for Blackstone Capital Partners and a global team for Blackstone Tactical Opportunities and Blackstone Growth. She is currently a director of Spanx and of Centric Brands, where she serves on the audit and compensation committees. She previously was a Director of Lombard International and of Bumble, where she served on the compensation committee and acted as Interim President. Ms. Morrell is also the Co-Chair of the Blackstone Women’s Initiative Taskforce.

Katie Storer is a Principal in Blackstone Growth.

Jessica Parry is a Senior Associate in Tactical Opportunities.

Rosa Morona is an Analyst in Tactical Opportunities.

How did SPANX first come onto Blackstone’s radar?

Ann Chung: As investors in the consumer sector, my team’s job is to really understand the brand leaders in the space—so SPANX had been on our radar for a long time. It’s a category creator—meaning that it’s so far ahead of the competition that it has become synonymous with the entire shapewear category, like Kleenex has for tissues. When we heard Sara Blakely was interested in bringing on a partner, we were excited to start the discussion, and it evolved into an amazing partnership with Sara and her team.

The deal team meets at Blackstone’s New York office.

At first glance, SPANX might seem like an unexpected investment for a firm like Blackstone. What interested you about the company and how does it align with our broader investment approach?

Kelley Morrell: We invest across a wide range of high-conviction themes and sectors, from life sciences to content creation to consumer products like SPANX, Supergoop! and more. As with all our investments, we started with a thesis-driven approach based on SPANX’s impressive product and channel expansion, top-line growth and our shared vision of where we could bring the business. Then it went through the same benchmarking and rigorous hurdles all our investments do.

Jessica Parry: The business hits a lot of the key criteria we look for in a consumer investment. Right off the bat, we were excited to find that the company has successfully expanded far beyond shapewear, into other apparel like leggings and work pants, and has deep market penetration. SPANX also has very high brand awareness and strong e-commerce key performance indicators across the board.

Katie Storer: When you think about what creates brand loyalty and what drives retention and repeat buyers across multiple categories, SPANX excels. It’s about more than just product quality—there’s emotional loyalty and what the brand means to people. We all have a story about SPANX.

Before this deal, Sara Blakely had never accepted outside investment in SPANX. How did you convince her that Blackstone was the right partner?

Ann Chung: We really invested the time—not just from this team, but across the firm, from leaders in different businesses to our portfolio operations team. Sara describes SPANX as her baby, so we had to assure her that we were the right stewards and partners for this next phase of the company’s journey. It was about listening to her, understanding what she wanted, and finding the right ways that we could support her business.

Blackstone SPANX: Ann Chung and Sara Blakely on the set of CNBC Squawkbox.
Ann Chung and Sara Blakely on the set of CNBC Squawkbox.

What was it like working on an all-woman deal team and going after such a well-known woman-centric brand?

Rosa Morona: It happened very organically. It was an incredible coincidence that enabled us all to understand the business and its potential very quickly. We were also able to connect on a deeper level with the SPANX management team, which is mostly woman-led. I remember in one of our first meetings, we all laughed about some of the tragic moments we’ve experienced with our wardrobes over the years. In the end, having this all-woman team helped us better understand the company.

Ann Chung: And it wasn’t just the women at Blackstone in this conversation. Many of our lawyers and third-party advisors on this deal were women as well, which isn’t often the case. There was a different level of comfort and connection to the product.  

Blackstone has recently invested in quite a few woman-led and founded companies. What’s driving this wave?

Kelley Morrell: Blackstone has had tremendous success backing entrepreneurs of all stripes across our businesses. Most recently, we’ve backed a number of female founders and female CEOs. Part of that success comes from having people like us who can identify with management teams and companies’ employees. And for businesses focused on women, we can relate to the underlying customers too— because ultimately, we are part of that target market.

Our all-female deal team was an incredible marker of progress in our industry, but we look forward to the day when that’s normal course of business instead of an outlier.

Ann Chung

Katie Storer: Having more diversity on our team and within our portfolio is allowing us to see opportunities through a different lens and attract more and more great female entrepreneurs, but we’re still just fundamentally looking for the best companies and teams.

Ann Chung: I agree. Our hope is that at some point, we can all just be founders or investors, and we won’t need to caveat that in any way. Our all-female deal team was an incredible marker of progress in our industry, but we look forward to the day when that’s normal course of business instead of an outlier.

Reese Witherspoon and Whitney Wolfe Herd— founders of Blackstone-backed companies Hello Sunshine and Bumble— joined this deal alongside Oprah Winfrey as co-investors. What’s significant about the buy-in from these high-profile leaders?

Kelley Morrell: It’s validating that others are as excited about our investment as we are. But I think what’s more significant here is this powerful example of women’s equity ownership. It’s so important for women to have opportunities to back successful companies. Being a part of that, especially with women in the Blackstone family, is exciting.

Jessica Parry: Oprah and Reese have been organic advocates of the SPANX brand for a long time. One of the first big breaks for SPANX was when Oprah included it in her annual “Favorite Things” list in 2000. It’s special to see that come full circle more than 20 years later.

How is Blackstone going to support SPANX going forward?

Kelley Morrell: One of the reasons I love working with founders is their passion. They have an amazing vision, and Blackstone can bring in the resources to help them realize it. With SPANX, we’re taking what Sara built—and she has built an incredible business—and amplifying it. We’re not just providing more capital for growth; we’re thinking about how we can equip the company with the best possible advisors and talent to take it to the next level.

Ann Chung: Even though the brand is already well-known, it still has enormous potential. We’re focused on supporting the company’s already growing digital and e-commerce presence, international expansion and new product innovation. If we enable the company to amplify its message and brand, I think we’ll see a lot more women embrace SPANX—not just as a shapewear business, but for a broader part of their wardrobe. We’re thrilled to be a part of that growth.

Read More about how Blackstone supports women entrepreneurs.