Nasty Gal hires the nas­ti­est girl of the ’90s, Court­ney Love

The on­line fash­ion re­tailer taps into a ’90s grunge re­vival Girls “can be a lit­tle more sex­ual and re­bel­lious with their style”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - −Kim Bhasin

“Nasty Gal is not a brand for wall­flow­ers,” says Sophia Amoruso, founder and owner of the 10-year-old teen fash­ion la­bel. Which ex­plains the col­lab­o­ra­tion with rock icon Court­ney Love: “She has such a sin­gu­lar style. … She’s provoca­tive, she’s un­in­hib­ited. I would say we’re a provoca­tive brand.”

The 18-piece “Love, Court­ney” col­lec­tion, a first for the la­bel and mu­si­cian, goes on sale on Jan. 14 and fea­tures ’90s grunge-in­spired items, in­clud­ing what the first-time de­signer calls a floaty ki­mono ($188), bra with a choker ($48), and head-to-toe lace body­suit ($108)—all drawn from her days as lead singer for the group Hole and as wife and muse of Nir­vana front­man Kurt Cobain. “It’s mod­ern but slightly nos­tal­gic,” Love said on a re­cent pod­cast.

The line ar­rives at a time of re­newed in­ter­est in ’90s styles, from crop tops to high-waisted jeans. Dr. Martens in­dus­trial boots are back on the streets, more re­fined, less chunky. “You see a lot of par­al­lels in what was pop­u­lar then and what’s hap­pen­ing now,” says Roseanne Mor­ri­son, fash­ion di­rec­tor at trend fore­caster Do­neger Group. Love, she says, “epit­o­mizes the ’90s,” and her line dis­tin­guishes Nasty Gal from other brands.

Fash­ion col­lab­o­ra­tions help

re­tail­ers gain at­ten­tion. It’s a lowrisk, low-cost way to spark pub­lic­ity and sales, says Mar­shal Co­hen, a retail an­a­lyst at re­search firm NPD Group. H&M and Tar­get found such suc­cess with Alexan­der Wang and Mis­soni, among oth­ers.

Amoruso’s com­pany started as an EBay store, sell­ing vin­tage finds from la­bels such as Louis Vuit­ton and Chanel. It be­came a stand­alone on­line shop in 2008. In 2012 she hired de­sign­ers to cre­ate a Nasty Gal line. “They’ve tapped into this idea that young girls and mil­len­ni­als can be a lit­tle more sex­ual and re­bel­lious with their style,” says Sarah Owen, editor at retail anal­y­sis firm WGSN.

To­day, Nasty Gal has 200 em­ploy­ees and two brick-and­mor­tar stores—in Los An­ge­les, where it’s based, and Santa Mon­ica. It rings up about $100 mil­lion in an­nual sales, ac­cord­ing to Amoruso, and has raised $65 mil­lion from In­dex Ven­tures and for­mer J.C. Pen­ney Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Ron John­son.

Fash­ion e-com­merce is a crowded mar­ket, with hun­dreds of star­tups, from ModCloth to Asos, sell­ing along­side es­tab­lished re­tail­ers H&M and For­ever 21. So­cial me­dia has driven Nasty Gal’s pop­u­lar­ity—that’s where the com­pany cul­ti­vates its cus­tomer. It has 1.9 mil­lion fol­low­ers and count­ing on In­sta­gram, 225,000 on Twit­ter, and 158,000 on Pin­ter­est, plus 1.2 mil­lion likes on Face­book. Nasty Gal had to cut about 10 per­cent of its work­force in 2014—typ­i­cal grow­ing pains for a fash­ion re­tailer, ac­cord­ing to Steven Den­nis, the founder of retail con­sult­ing firm Sage­Berry. “Once you find the easy cus­tomers to ac­quire, who get your point of view, then it starts to get a lot harder to go be­yond be­ing a niche busi­ness,” he says. Nasty Gal de­clined to com­ment on the job cuts. It’s also fight­ing four law­suits brought by for­mer em­ploy­ees who ac­cuse it of dis­abil­ity dis­crim­i­na­tion and il­le­gal ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nant work­ers. The com­pany called the pend­ing law­suits “friv­o­lous and with­out merit.” Last spring, Amoruso said she would fo­cus more on the cre­ative side of the busi­ness and pro­moted Sheree Water­son, a for­mer Lu­l­ule­mon ex­ec­u­tive, to CEO.

“Our girl loves Court­ney and her style,” Amoruso says. That type of syn­ergy doesn’t come along that of­ten, and Amoruso isn’t look­ing to do too many such deals. “I’d like to be re­ally choosy,” she says. The bot­tom line The teen and young women’s fash­ion brand is hop­ing to at­tract new cus­tomers with an ex­clu­sive deal with a rock icon.

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