These days, it is all about technological advancement – who can tweet news out the fastest, drive the fastest car, have the newest iPhone model, etc. However, in the modern day period of fast innovation, technology is reshaping the retail and manufacturing industry, and Nasty Gal’s founder, and the author of the New York Times bestseller #GIRLBOSS, Sophia Amoruso, is at the forefront.
The young, savvy 31-year-old former CEO stopped by Northeastern University in Boston last Monday after coming off of an eleven-city cross-country book tour to speak to college students about how she built a successful global brand. Nasty Gal isn’t just another e-commerce site, it’s one that caters to over 550,000 customers in over 60 countries, and this year it exceeded $100 million in sales.
However, Nasty Gal wasn’t always the e-commerce power player that it is today. Nearly nine years ago in 2006, Amoruso founded the company selling vintage clothing from an eBay store while based in San Francisco. She would communicate with her customers on MySpace to learn about her consumers and what they wanted. Originally called Nasty Gal Vintage as an homage to Betty Davis, Amoruso would hunt for pieces from secondhand stores like Salvation Army to turn profit. Clearly, it worked as Nasty Gal rapidly grew from an eBay shop with one employee to a multi-million dollar company with over 300 employees and growing.
Though you may not give online shopping a second thought when buying a new pair of snow boots for the upcoming brutal Boston winter, you should probably start – according to Statista, an online statistic portal, the U.S. apparel market accounts for $225 billion of the global economic market. And if you were to expand that outlook to other manufacturing industries other than apparel and outside of the U.S., that number would grow tremendously.
In contrast to the nine years that it took to build Nasty Gal, #GIRLBOSS took only a few months for Amoruso to write. Called the “millennial alternative to Lean In” by New York Magazine, #GIRLBOSS is an advice book targeted at young females who want to know how they can achieve success in their own lives. An empowering read, #GIRLBOSS reflects Amoruso’s love for storytelling as she is frequently inspired by peoples’ stories. As she stated enthusiastically to a packed venue at Blackman Auditorium on Northeastern University’s campus, “Learn from other people’s successes; this is something I find really valuable. Storytelling is inspiring and more valuable than any formula.”
Amoruso isn’t the typical CEO of a multi-million dollar company. Although Nasty Gal was quickly recognized as one of the fastest growing and most profitable businesses in the industry right now, Amoruso doesn’t have an MBA or even a college degree. She recognizes the need for formulas in business but makes a conscious decision to ignore them: “There are rules to business and finance that are worth following, but I don’t like formulas, it’s not my thing.” Amoruso wanted #GIRLBOSS to be more of a self-help book and when asked, said that she decided to write her book for the girl that she was when she was 22 as she “stumbled upon business – business I’ve learned to love”.
After stepping down from her C-suite role in January 2015 to pursue other projects, like acting as a contributing columnist at Marie Claire and writing her book, Amoruso choose to remain present in the company as executive chairman, helping lead the day-to-day operations of her quickly-growing business. As Amoruso’s top priority for Nasty Gal as a brand is “to stay focused and keep the brand as on point as possible,” she is doing so successfully as she recently transitioned her business from an e-commerce platform to brick and mortar stores. These two stores based in the Los Angeles areas of Santa Monica and Melrose, close to the company’s Los Angeles headquarters, are evidence of Nasty Gal’s continued trend of ‘unconventional’. While most companies are struggling to move from brick and mortar retail locations so they can e-commerce to increase accessibility to their customer, Nasty Gal is doing this backwards. But it is still proving successful, as Amoruso noted that she is frequently asked about when the next Nasty Gal store will come to the East Coast, specifically to New York.
The hurdle of global expansion is one that not even some of the most established retailers can overcome. This past year, the Minneapolis-based Target Corporation, known for being the second largest discount retailer in the U.S., shockingly announced that they had failed in their venture to expand to the Canadian market after only several months since they were “losing money every day.” However, Primark, a UK-based clothing retailer with the pricing of Forever 21 but with trendy European style, has so far been profitable in their recent choice to expand to the American market, having recently opened their first store here in Boston at Downtown Crossing. While this store opening was relatively high profile, attended by international fashion bloggers, influencers and businesspeople, some lucky shoppers such as myself were fortunate enough to have attended the store opening on Sept. 9. This newly occupied space, which used to house the flagship store of Filene’s, is four floors, and carries products for the home as well as for men, women and children. If you haven’t already gone, it is definitely something you must do this upcoming weekend, since Primark hasn’t expanded to e-commerce yet and is only in the brick and mortar sphere. So unless you’re planning on going abroad anytime soon, the Primark at Downtown Crossing is the only place you can buy affordable European clothing and home goods.
Though Amoruso notes that Nasty Gal does have plans to expand their brick and mortar locations, they are still dealing with the difficulties that come with operating a growing business in the modern technological age. When asked about how Nasty Gal is keeping up with competition from other high-profile retail distributors such as ASOS and Amazon, Amoruso recognized that “competing on price and delivery is a challenging thing to keep up with.” However, it doesn’t appear that Nasty Gal is going anywhere. When asked about trends in e-commerce and where she sees it going, Amoruso stated, “[E-commerce] was a new frontier just five years ago, and the internet is a place where there’s so many eyeballs; you can text things out on social media and see the power it has.”
The power of social media, and how technology is continuously interwoven with fast fashion in contemporary retail and manufacturing, is a new concept that a lot of brands are attempting to explore and exploit to increase profit margins and generate revenue. Amoruso is one of these businesspeople hoping to do the same: “I listened on social media – I’ve always paid attention to our customer sentiment on social media [from her experience on eBay and MySpace]. I’m having fun with media; the book was a piece of media, the podcast was a piece of media [referring to Nasty Gal’s recent podcast series launch], and what #GIRLBOSS can become.”
Clearly, Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS is becoming much more than what it started as Amoruso launched the #GIRLBOSS Foundation a year ago, aimed at providing financial grants to women in design, fashion, music and the arts “to help fund them on their way to becoming a #GIRLBOSS and owning their future.” To date, the #GIRLBOSS Foundation has awarded over $75,000 in grants to female entrepreneurs. Amoruso is astounded by the way #GIRLBOSS “cut through the noise” the way it did, as she remarked, “If you look on Instagram, there’s twice as many hashtags with #GIRLBOSS than Nasty Gal, which is a company that’s been around forever. It’s kind of amazing.”
Despite her successes, Amoruso has stayed humble. When asked about what accomplishment that she was most proud of, she was quick to mention her family. “It’s pretty cool to know that I am making my parents proud because no one ever expected that.” Through laughter from both Amoruso and those in the crowd, Amoruso also noted that learning how to build a company and writing a book were on her list of proudest achievements.
Though Amoruso has been praised for her numerous accomplishments, she doesn’t see herself stopping anytime soon. On advice for future #GIRLBOSSes, Amoruso said, “When it doesn’t feel like work, when you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing, that’s good; do that.”
“There’s a lot more storytelling to come,” she noted before stepping off the stage to mingle with event attendees and sign copies of her book, which nearly sold out at the door.