Sophia Amoruso, Founder & CEO, Nasty Gal

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"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. 

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Kelsey brien

    very inspiring piece.

  • Lera Pet

    One of the best interviews I have read here. She is very likable. I agree with her about eye creams. Hard to know if they do anything at all, but I am still looking and yet to find a perfect one for me.

    http://lerablogs.blogspot.com/

    • Renaphuah

      try Shiseido Benefiance eyecream for a good moisturising and wrinkle prevention :)

      • Lera Pet

        thank you, I'll try that!

    • Mfergie889

      I LOVE Laura Mercier's eye serum..and I am really picky about eye cream. Check it out!

  • VotreAmie

    A rad chick, no doubt about it. Love her story!
    x
    http://www.iloveublank.blogspot.com

  • Helena

    love her bathroom! am obsessed with white tile

    • elise

      I know that's right! My bathtub has what they called "subway tile" It looks like shiny white brick pattern. I love it but have to move in a month:(

  • ashleigh @ Jolie Jouel

    This was the best article! I loved reading about how she started her company and watched it grow. What an amazing success story that started as just a little ebay store! Crazy. Great product recommendations, too. I'd love to try those glitter nails and the wrinkle revenge - despite its name.

    My jewelry blog: joliejouel.blogspot.com

  • charlotte bentley

    She's amazing! Read the story in Forbes a while ago and was transfixed. She's so normal!
    Even though Nasty Gal is a bit grungy for me, there certainly are pieces I like and would buy in a heartbeat. She totally has a sense of a look and girls go crazy for it. Reasonably priced mixed with a few great, expensive pieces (leather jacket, etc) is so sellable.
    Her beauty routine is so relatable, too. Love that she uses the Tarte lipsurgences - they are amazing - and the Chanel light foundation. I just love that one, best foundation for summer or a hot climate.
    Now I'm dying to try wrinkle revenge - Kate Somerville's Exfolikate has a similar way about it!
    Charlotte
    http://www.charlottespiderlashes.blogspot.com

  • Nina R.

    I would encourage everyone to read that Forbes profile of Sophia - she comes across as a totally different person! She is very clever - presenting herself one way for ITG and as so much more corporate and "adult" for Forbes and her potential investors. I think there is a lesson here for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur, so make sure you avail yourselves of all the sides to this interesting woman. Non sequitur - I thought this post worked much better as one of "The Professional" features rather than a "Top Shelf" - her bathroom is beautiful but the products...nothing unusual.

    • Fairytalesandcoffee

      Now I am going to have to hunt down this Forbes interview! Thanks for the recommendation. I am always fascinated with professional vs. personal code switching...it is a fine, nuanced line.

      • Nina R.

        The link to the Forbes article is right there in the ITG interview.

  • Sarahdee

    It's funny, I have an online vintage store and I too never imagine being super successful with it... This sort of inspired me! Great read :)

    xoxo Sarah
    theantiquepearl.blogspot.com

  • http://starlightsworld.blogspot.de/ Andrea

    great post! she´s awesome!

  • Kendrastanton

    Great article! Very inspiring....

  • riley

    great article-very down to earth and inspiring.
    any idea what lipstick she is wearing in this photo?

    • ITGNick

      It's Chanel Rouge Hydrabase in Coco Pink, but it was discontinued in '09...

  • http://twitter.com/EnvelopeAtlanta envelope atlanta

    I really appreciate this post. She seems very honest and modest in the incredible growth of her company. It is an inspiration to use my creativity and attention to detail to grow my own project. Thank you.

  • Jenny

    I love their clothing, I found some at Who Brain.
    http://www.whobrain.com

  • http://twitter.com/alda_lima Alda Lima

    I love it, on interviews people usually don´t specifiy much about the products they use, I loved that Sophia was very detailed about it. And I love love love NG.

  • http://twitter.com/laurenislost Lauren Lever

    Very cool, love the fishnet dress she is wearing too!

  • Elise Vandrunen

    hey! someone's skin is tough,instead of "soooo sensitive and fragile" :)
    But, I want her to leave her curls- it looks fuzzy because it's fine.

  • claire

    ABSOLUTELY, loved this post!! I love anything entrepreneurial!

  • Amber B
  • val bourdage

    nasty gal has not only inspired me in what i do at work but also has inspired me to be more comfortable, confident and unique in my style. the whole company is genius and converse with their customer so well. amazing article and such a unique insiders perspective on sophia!

  • win

    love her look!

    but - where's her hand in the second pic! looks kinda eerie... but otherwise very fab

  • http://mybeautysample.com/ Becca @ The Beauty Sample

    This was a great read! I kinda wish she talked a little more about her beauty products, but still quite interesting overall!

  • Catherine

    Soo woke up and read this article (which is great btw) then headed over to Nasty Girl to have a general browse.
    Next minute, $90 poorer.
    Thanks ITG, keep up the good work!

  • S.Elisabeth Gross

    Nasty Gal is a clothing company who's style I WISH I could love, but sadly it's not totally me. This piece is so inspiring though, and I love how it started, her observations, and how real she seems (especially with the slightly disorganized part--me too!).

  • Leslieirojas

    I really loved this post, Sophia is truly amazing! I remember Nasty Gal years ago and it makes me happy to have seen it grown so much.

    http://www.leslierojas.com/

  • Guest

    This was weird... Maybe could have cut the business side of things and given a link to the Forbes interview instead? I had no idea what Nasty Gal was before this - the clothes and shoes are super amazing, but her beauty products are so-so.

  • Nadia

    She a nice person, such a horrible customer service.. I wanted to like this shop, I really did, but it was my worst shopping experience ever.

  • kneelbeforetigers

    So many things: (1) it also bugs me how quickly Byredo dissipates on the skin, too! (2) Love ladies who build themselves up and become successful... no shade. (3) I'd love it if Nasty Gal carried cool plus size stuff (again), as fuller ladies want some cute clothes, too! (4) I'm going to check out this H2V line.

  • whogivesahoot

    Wish she would have some variety in her models.

  • Krystle Young

    Love this interview of Sophia. Best one yet. Go girl! You inspire me!

  • Bird

    I'm not a fan of Nasty Gal, but she's wonderful. She is truly invested in her work and comes off as genuinely surprised by her company's growth, humble and interactive. Plus - that Bumble closet! Her bathroom! In my opinion, one of the most beautiful Top Shelfs ITG has photographed.

  • Renaphuah

    i dont mind that this is not a very interesting Top Shelf - but Sophia is a good role model, a hardworking girl who deserves what she has today. thanks Emily, more career girls please x

  • Jacdami Minaya

    This post really inspired me, I have an online store in facebook and this was such an inspirational post to me, it gave me hope and desire to keep on.

    Thank you so much.

    - Jacdami Minaya
    http://www.buymyclosetblog.blogspot.com

  • stylesociete

    great interview! i feel so inspired now!
    style societe

  • Wanderlust00

    I never comment but the moment I saw the Bettydavis album I flipped. She is my idol so learning that this store was named after a song of hers just made me so giddy.
    Loved the article

  • Fai

    Thank you for interviewing awesome people like Sophia! She is amazing and very inspiring!

    x

    http://cosetteblog.blogspot.com

  • Kat

    I kind of like Nasty Gal - but I am so, so disappointed that they used Terry Richardson for their lookbook.

  • Ona_in_Barcelona

    Wow, I loved everything about this! It is so, so inspiring to hear about young woman effing *killing* it in business - CEO at 28 of a $100m company that you started from scratch - AMAZING.
    I'm not sure why people think her Top Shelf is boring - she uses lots of interesting-sounding products that I hadn't heard of before.

  • Julene

    You are such an inspiration! Started my own vintage clothing shop and am loving every minute of it. Ridiculously hard work though! Thanks for doing this piece!

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/GypsyPlunder?ref=si_shop

  • fashionresidence.com

    Very interesting! Love her!

  • CatbirdNYC

    Perhaps my favorite interview ever. Both business-wise and beauty-wise. Sea Breeze!!

  • Kishia Ward

    Awesome post. She seems very down-to-earth. I can appreciate a CEO that doesn't take everything too seriously, but is still very candid about how she thinks. She seems like the kind of girl you'd skip class with to hang out.

    Kishia

    http://blog.makethemblush.com

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Caudalie
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NARS
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PHYTO
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Neutrogena
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DERMAdoctor
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dermalogica
dermalogica special cleansing gel
Sonya Dakar
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Laura Mercier
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OMOROVICZA
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Sea Breeze
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Byredo
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Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent Eyeliner
CHANEL
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Benefit
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