"It's funny. I’m really an introvert—I started an online eBay store so I could work by myself, not thinking I would have a hundred-fifty employees and be getting photographed, or any of these things. Now, Nasty Gal is on track to exceed $100 million in revenue this year. Last month, Forbes did a four-page story on, basically, me. We just found out that we’re the fastest-growing retailer in the country right now, and the eleventh fastest-growing company in the country. It's crazy. I’m twenty-eight.
Both my parents worked by commission: my dad did loans and my mom sold houses. My dad’s dad owned a motel and my mom’s dad owned a piano store, so you could say they were entrepreneurial. My dad, when I got my first job, was like, ‘You need to take your resume, ask for the manager, make sure they see you, call back, and then go back every week, ask for the manager, and say ‘I still want to work here.’ He’s a maniac, but his advice is really good: 'You don’t get what you don’t ask for.'
I think Nasty Gal is for girls who just want to get dressed for themselves and not for anyone else. It’s not about having the perfect, latest thing—which some of our customers may be after to some extent—but really just mixing high and low and not being super brand-loyal. It can be attention-getting; it’s sexy, but it’s playful. I don’t love the word ‘empowerment,’ but we’ve sat down and talked to girls that are crazy-obsessed customers and they’ve thrown out that word: ‘I feel like I can do anything when I wear Nasty Gal,’ or ‘I’m the best dressed person in the room when I wear it.’ They’re statement pieces that girls can afford and feel really good about.
When I started on eBay in '06, I was 22 and living in San Francisco, working in the lobby of an art school, checking student IDs. I’d taken a bunch of photo classes and was into it—photography was what I wanted to do with my life—and I'd learned enough about graphic design to design a little eBay store. At that time, I only wore vintage, but I wasn't any kind of expert. I just knew how much things cost. I would camp out in front of stores for hours at a time to buy things, and I photographed everything myself, styled everything, got really good at buttoning things with one hand and having a camera in the other hand. The models were my friends or girls I found on MySpace. I launched with 12 pieces, and everything had a starting auction price of $9.99, with no reserve. Girls would just freak out. I shipped worldwide, and there would be a girl in New York City and a girl in Sydney fighting over something really awesome: everything from Mongolian fur jackets to weird plus-size ladies anoraks that I made to look really avant-garde. I just tried to elevate everything, whether it was exciting or not. eBay taught me a lot about perceived value, and how to make things look their best, because that’s really the difference between literally putting a plus-size ladies anorak on a hanger and taking a picture of it, and putting it on a cool girl and making it look like something beyond your wildest dreams that you can snag for way less than Comme Des Garçons.
I called the store Nasty Gal Vintage after a lady named Betty Davis. She was this really outspoken, super stylish, and sexy ex-runway model, who was married to Miles Davis at one point. Her music is really good, and she had an album and song called 'Nasty Gal.' When I started selling stuff on eBay, I was more into music than fashion, and it wasn’t like, ‘What am I going to name this business that I will eventually be CEO of?’ It was more thinking, ‘Uh..what am I going to call an eBay store?’ I’d thought of stupid stuff like ‘I Heart Vintage’—thank God I didn’t go with that. 'Nasty Gal' was also somewhat of an ‘F you’—like, hey, if I can make this name work, then what I’m selling must be really good. It’s a slightly repellant name, but one that is a good litmus test for weeding people out. If you’re really freaked out by the business name, then you are going to suck working with us, and you’re probably not our customer.
I left eBay cold turkey and launched the standalone website in June of 2008, and also hired my first employee, Christina—she’s our buying director now. We started with maybe a hundred, a hundred-fifty pieces. She and I just sat side by side and watched things sell or not sell. By this time, I’d quit my other job and this was all I was doing. I moved out to the suburbs [of San Francisco] for two years, paying $500 rent, and living with no kitchen, subsisting on Boston Market and Subway. I took a step way back to go way forward.
We outgrew our first 1,000 square-foot space in a year, then we moved into almost 2,000 square-feet in Berkeley—outgrew that—and then to 7,500 square-feet in Emeryville, outgrew that, and now we’re in maybe 9,000 square-feet total, including our photo studio downtown [in Los Angeles], but we’ve totally outgrown that, so now we’re signing a lease on 60,000 square-feet of office space a few blocks away—two full floors for design, buying, planning, merchandising, finance, HR, engineering.
Online, I think retailers are just starting to figure out that the product, itself, is what you have to say, whereas in a store, you have so much time to catch the customer’s attention. On a website, it better be great, visually, across everything—from the product to the styling to the model. That's what I've always focused on, and now design, too. We just launched our own denim [line] a month ago. And Terry Richardson shot the cover of our new print magazine, which features our first in-house collection. I styled the shoot. The collection is called 'Weird Science,' and the color palette was inspired by network cabling and technology.
I did the all of the styling for Nasty Gal for years. I like the visual world, I like pretty things. I guess I ended up applying the eye that I discovered through studying photography to whatever has come along: first it was buying clothes and styling clothes, and now it’s designing clothes. That's what built the brand, too—to build a brand on the internet, no one actually has experience; it’s all in the creative. It’s not the data that we had, or the money we spent on marketing, because we didn’t really spend any money on marketing. The whole time we’ve just listened and tweaked, listened and tweaked, and listened and tweaked, and that’s what we’re still doing.... It’s what’s great about online. I don’t think you have that same opportunity when people walk in and walk out of your store. I didn’t have a great vision for Nasty Gal, mostly because I was naïve to how big this thing could actually be, which meant not knowing how high the sky was—or the sky not even being the limit. Goals are nice to have—but I, personally, don’t even know how to organize myself enough to carry out a goal if I was too specific. But every day, listening to people around you, hiring awesome people, or getting rid of people who aren’t, and making sure everyone is doing their best—collectively, it has worked.
I’m rarely happy with how I leave the house. If I could, I’d probably try harder, but I just get frustrated or bored... I have naturally curly hair, so I usually blow it dry. I wore it curly for a long time, when it was longer, but I just felt like I looked like an old hippie lady. It’s as much work as straightening, just to get the volume and the curls to look right! I use almost all Bumble and bumble hair products: they work for me, I like the way they smell—and my boyfriend manages a Bumble salon. [Laughs] If I part my hair and slick it back, I’ll use Shine and Gellac. Otherwise, I blow dry my hair with Straight, which is a new product that my boyfriend had me try. Then, I like the Grooming Cream for a normal day, to finish a ‘straight’ look. The Tonic is great, too—it’s just a bunch of minerals and vitamins. My hair is pretty fine, so when I get out the shower, it’s just a cotton-candy rat nest, and that stuff makes it possible for me to comb it. Phyto Phytovolume Actif also helps; it’s a root-booster volumizing spray. I love the smell of it, it’s super light, and not sticky. But I don’t have a soft touch when it comes to my routine. My friend Stacy once described watching me get dressed like, ‘You’re so rough!’ I’ll just put a bunch of things in my hair.
For my skin, well, I just moved to LA a year-and-a-half ago, and because the water in LA is super hard, I have to slather my entire body in moisturizer after I shower, otherwise it sucks to put pants on. I like the pretty basic Lubriderm, and Neutrogena Body Oil if I feel like looking a little greasy. In the morning, I start by washing my face with this amazing stuff: Wrinkle Revenge by Derma Doctor. You leave it on for a minute and it just eats your skin off [Laughs], and then you wash it off. It’s a horrible name—at Sephora, the salesperson was trying to sell it to me and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know, man,’ but he was like, ‘No, my skin has changed!’ He was so into it that I had to buy it, and it’s pretty incredible. I either wash with that or super-simple Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel. Or, if I’m really not feeling like washing my face at all, I just do a little Caudalie Cleansing Water with a cotton pad. And I'll do the Triple Action Organic Scrub by Sonia Dakar if I feel like I need a scrub. My skin’s really tough—I get microdermabrasion pretty frequently—a regular scrub doesn’t usually do the job. Then I spray a Burke Williams H2V toner on my face—it helps the moisturizer sink in. I've been liking the Caudelie VinoPerfect Day Perfecting Fluid with SPF 15, but there are some days where I literally will just use Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer, which has a good SPF in it. And for my eyes, I got this cream at the Four Seasons in London— Omorovicza Gold Eye Lift. It’s from Budapest and has flecks of gold in it. Eye creams are weird: some people swear by them, I don’t think they do a whole lot for you, but I’m trying anyway, even if they just keep the skin under my eyes moisturized it’s worth it. But I don’t look any less tired for some reason.
At night, I sometimes go for Sea Breeze Actives astringent, or another face wash, and then always H2V Hyaluronic Boost. It’s a serum that moisturizes your skin, which mine always needs. For perfume, I wear Byredo Gypsy Water. It doesn’t last as long as I’d like it, but I love the smell—feminine but musky at the same time.
In terms of makeup, when I do more than mascara, I always do a cat eye. I used to wear shadows more, but I feel like they make my eyes look really heavy now. I once was able to roll out of bed with yesterday’s eye makeup on, and it was cute at twenty years old, but it’s not as cute on me at twenty-eight years old. I use Chanel Inimitable Intense mascara in 10, but I interchange it with Maybelline Great Lash. I choose whichever one is closest, whichever one I haven’t misplaced at the moment. I prefer liquid eyeliners—usually Lancôme Artliner in black or navy blue, or Yves Saint Laurent Eyeliner Noir—they’re basically the same. Usually, I only do mascara, foundation, and a little bit of blush. For a base, I use Chanel Base Lumière and then Vitalumière Aqua foundation—it’s pretty sheer, but it stays on forever. And then blush, which I’m still not sure if I apply right. The only reason I wear blush is just so I don’t look dead in the face; it’s not a really nuanced process for me. I alternate between Nars Orgasm, and one of these Chanel bronzers: Soleil Tan de Chanel in 62 Terre Épice, or Les Tissages de Chanel Blush Duo in Tweed Sienna. It depends on how tan I’m feeling or want to feel. For lips, it’s whatever’s around: Benetint, a MAC Brick Lip Pencil, or Tarte LipSurgence, which is like a pencil/stain situation, and it’s easy to apply.
I got my gels done at Neihulé in downtown LA near our office. It's cool: first, they put the clear coat on, bake it, and when it’s still sticky, they literally take a shaker of glitter and shake glitter on your nail and pat it down and then bake it in and put another clear coat on. So, there’s just glitter hanging out between some clear coats. It lasts three weeks, or until it grows out. I prefer gels because I’ll destroy nail polish before I even get into the car."
—as told to ITG
Sophia Amoruso, in a Shakuhachi dress and Theyskens' Theory shoes, photographed in Los Angeles by Emily Weiss on August 15th, 2012.