Billionaire Spanx Founder Loans Out Her Wedding Dress to Strangers—Including Brides Affected by the Pandemic

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Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx, recently made an offer on Instagram: Brides who postponed their wedding due to COVID-19 can borrow her wedding dress. And it's not even the first time she's lent the dress to a stranger. 

"Calling all brides to be... do you want to borrow my wedding dress from me? I have already loaned it out twice... once to a good friend and once to a girl I just met," Blakely said in her Instagram post on March 19.

Blakely had two dresses for her October 2008 wedding to entrepreneur Jesse Itzler – one was her grandmother's restored 1918 wedding gown and the other was a lacy, strapless, tea length number. 

Blakely tells CNBC Make It that she will loan out her second dress.

The first time she loaned out her dress was to her childhood friend in 2010.

"She had been looking for dresses and just couldn't find anything that she liked," Blakely told CNBC Make It. "She was struggling with the cost of the dresses and budget and I just said, 'Well wear mine,' and she said, 'Great, I will!'

"It fit her perfectly. She didn't have to do anything to it, and she just looked stunning."

The second time in 2016 was a bit different. Blakely offered her dress to a woman she had just randomly met on a hike in Sun Valley, Idaho.

"I got to talking to one of the girls," Blakely recalled, "and she said, 'I'm newly engaged.' And I didn't even plan to say it, but it just came out: 'Oh really? Well, I'm happy to loan you my wedding dress.' And she just kind of looked at me like, 'Wait what?'"

The woman politely declined in the moment, but exchanged contact information with Blakely. About a year later, Blakely says she got a message from the woman asking if the offer was still on the table. 

"She emailed me and said, 'This is so unbelievable and a little bit awkward, but can I borrow your dress? My dress came back completely ruined. It doesn't fit me at all. My wedding is in two days,'" Blakely recalled. "I overnighted her my wedding dress and she wore it and looked absolutely stunning."

Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Blakely wants to share her dress again.

"When COVID-19 happened, I shifted my thinking to, 'How can I use my social platform right now to be helpful?' I had remembered that I did this with the wedding dress, and I thought, 'This is a really feel-good post that should make other people feel good right now,'" she said.

"And I also wanted to hopefully start a trend and spark an idea in other women that maybe they hadn't thought of loaning their wedding dress out and now they will."

So Blakely found a photo of her dress and "threw it up on [Instagram]" with the offer, she says.

Thirty-one women responded to Blakely's post, she said, asking to borrow her dress. Another 72 commented saying they would also loan their wedding dress out.

"We reached out to those 31 women and said that when the time comes, we'll send the dress," she said.

"One of the women that I'm going to end up loaning my dress to is another female entrepreneur. I am excited to loan it to another female entrepreneur. Another one of the women that reached out is a nurse, and that was also really exciting," Blakely tells CNBC Make It.

But not everyone reacted positively – some users commented, "You're a billionaire and in a time of America in crisis you post about helping people out by offering them one preowned dress?" and "Sara, can your company help in pandemic by making face masks?"

However offering up her wedding dress isn't the only thing billionaire Blakely is doing to help.

Blakely and the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) in Atlanta (where Blakely lives) funded meals through Goodr, a food waste management company, to "feed hundreds of families in Atlanta over the next four weeks that are food insecure," she said.

In addition, "We have been feeding the ER doctors at the hospitals here in Atlanta by ordering takeout for lunch and dinner from local restaurants in the last three weeks," Blakely says. "Every lunch and every dinner we've been delivering to the hospitals. We see this as a win-win because we're supporting the local restaurants and giving them some income, as well as feeding the front line folks that are making a really big difference."

On Friday, Blakely announced that she will also donate $5 million to help female entrepreneurs.

"I am a business owner. I've been one for the past 20 years. I understand what it feels like and so I'm going to be giving 1,000 different female-owned businesses $5,000 each," Blakely told NBC's "TODAY with Hoda and Jenna."

"And I actually started Spanx with $5,000, 20 years ago and I'm just very excited to be able to offer a hand and help women who have bet on themselves, and now I find it a right time to bet on them."

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This story has been updated to include the news of Blakely's $5 million donation. 

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