an honest conversation with an entrepreneur who built – and lost – it all, and is on a mission to reframe success
An “anarchist misfit” and “unlikely businesswoman” is how entertainment directory IMDb describes the main character of Girlboss – the new Netflix comedy series that’s based on the life of Sophia Amoruso. And, it’s a pretty accurate description of this fashion entrepreneur.
An angst-ridden, dumpster-diving teen who, at the age of 22, started an eBay store in 2006 selling ‘preloved’ items (the first thing she ever sold on eBay was a shoplifted book), Sophia had never planned to go into e-commerce. Yet, she has managed to cram a lifetime’s worth of success (and challenges) into the past decade. That small eBay boutique turned into a bootstrapped e-tail fashion empire, Nasty Gal, and transformed the former op-shopper into a self-made millionaire – and superstar author.
She connected with customers over MySpace, scouted young models online and paid them with burgers. Her book, #Girlboss, became a New York Times sensation – and a social movement. Part memoir and part call to action, it documented her rise to the C suite with unflinching advice for female leaders (one chapter is called ‘Money looks better in the bank than on your feet’).
In 2012 Nasty Gal leased a 45,000 square metre distribution centre and received US$40 million in investment funding. Three years later, Nasty Gal reportedly surpassed US$300 million in revenue, tripling sales in three years. It topped the list of 500 top e-commerce performers, beating Apple and Amazon with a 92.4 per cent five-year compound annual growth rate.
But in 2016, the same year Sophia’s marriage ended, Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy. Revenue had been sharply dropping and Sophia, who had a 55 per cent stake in the company and stepped down from CEO to executive chair in 2015, described the decision as the most responsible option to prevent closure. In February 2017, after years of layoffs and lawsuits, the brand’s intellectual property was acquired by the UK fashion website Boohoo for just US$20 million. That same month, Sophia received a notification that she had been removed as an admin from the Facebook page of the company she had built with her bare hands. Nasty Gal continues to operate, but without Sophia’s involvement.
The rise and fall – and rise again – is all part of this entrepreneur’s journey and cultish likeability. A few months after the bankruptcy announcement, more than 500 women in Los Angeles came together for the Girlboss Rally, a day of talks and activations to inspire women to rise up and redefine success for themselves.
Far more than just a snappy book title, Girlboss Media is now a media company that enables women to connect across social, digital and experiential platforms to share knowledge about their careers, finance, relationships and businesses, and empower each other. To date, the #Girlboss Foundation has awarded more than US$120,000 in financial grants to women in the worlds of design, fashion, music and the arts to help fund their passion projects.
The femmepreneur, who overshares, swears, and isn’t afraid to be flawesome, has filled a gap, not only in what she does but how she does it. She’s a role model for leaders who don’t wear a power suit, play golf or conform.
As Girlboss launches on Netflix to loosely retell her Nasty Gal journey, Sophia the businesswoman is redefining success in an era where career paths are rarely linear.
She recently sat down with Lisa Messenger to discuss it all.