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April 19 2014

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Gal Power: Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso on Her $100 Million (and Counting) Adventures in E-tail

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Sophia AmorusoSophia Amoruso, the 29-year-old eBayer-turned-Internet entrepreneur behind Nasty Gal, is in New York this week celebrating a pair of milestones: the e-tailer’s eponymous new ready-to-wear collection and the launch of Shoe Cult, its debut footwear line. Alexandra Richards, Emily Weiss, and Mia Moretti joined her for dinner at Hudson Clearwater last night. “This is a first for us,” Amoruso told Style.com. “Until now we’ve kind of only thrown brutish parties, which is my comfort zone.” But there’s nothing brutish about her business savvy. Nasty Gal sold about $100 million in clothing and accessories in 2012. She sat down with Style.com at the Crosby Street Hotel Wednesday afternoon to discuss her 50,000-and-counting Instagram followers, her love affair with Nike, and how the new additions will add to Nasty Gal’s bottom line.

You did the show circuit in New York last season. Was that your first time?
I’d gone a few years before. Erin Wasson was a customer when she was doing her thing for RVCA. She had bought some vintage from me, and she invited me because she was inspired by [those pieces]. It was interesting to see the full cycle, you know, “Wow, I sold vintage, and something that was inspired by it walked down the runway.” There’s nothing more encouraging than that. That was 2009. And I’ve gone the last two seasons. But I’m not a blogger; I’m not an editor; I don’t buy many of these brands. For me, it’s nice to see it in person, but I’m not sure it’s totally necessary.

Would you like to be part of the official New York fashion week schedule in the future?
There’s no plan for it.

What is your impression of the New York fashion world, as an L.A. outsider?
I’m really glad that I can come participate and meet people who are making the fashion world happen. If I were personally in New York and running my business here, I could be pretty distracted by it. It’s glamorous. But in L.A., at the end of the day I go home and hang out with my boyfriend and my poodle.

Are there designers in New York that you like or admire?
I really like old Norma Kamali. I like to know what’s going on, but personally I still wear mostly vintage. And, like our customers, I’m not really bound to only wearing one designer, or a few designers. It’s kind of a mix and match. Although I love Céline’s shoes and accessories.

So you still spend time hunting through vintage stores?
I don’t go vintage shopping in L.A. anymore. I steal stuff from our vintage department.

How important is vintage to Nasty Gal?
Vintage is a significant part of our business. It’s something like 1 percent, but at the scale we’re operating at, it’s close to a $1 million business. For a lot of people that would be good enough.

Nasty Gal Campaign

Do you read fashion magazines? How vital are they to your business?
Social media is really immediate, but there are definitely the fashion powers-that-be that our customers will always pay attention to, so it’s important that we’re there. There has not been a lot that we’ve been able to talk about because we’ve been selling other people’s brands. It’s exciting to now be able to shout from the rooftops, “Hey, we’re making stuff and this is the only place you can get it!” We launched a magazine, Super Nasty, but we’re going into hibernation mode on that now because we’d need to build a completely separate team to do it. It took people away from designing e-mail blasts. We’re introducing a catalog this month, and we’re running our first print ad campaign in the September issues of a few magazines.

One of the things that has made you so successful is understanding what your girl wants to buy, to look like. How did you figure that out?
A lot of it was learning. It’s been about having an eye and honing my eye for everything from the photography and the styling to the model and her expression. It was just me in the beginning, sitting there and tweaking out on what people like and what sells a garment, how to show the silhouette of something in a thumbnail on eBay. You’re competing for people’s attention, and when you’re optimizing a thumbnail, it makes you think about the whole thing. Today, I liken everything to that thumbnail. Every small thing that we do should be a small presentation of the bigger picture. It should be really high-resolution. The DNA should be baked into everything.

In terms of style, I’ve always been kind of flamboyant. My idea of an awesome girl has come through in the spirit of the photos and the styling and the casting, for the most part. It’s not a sad girl, it’s not a girl who’s waiting for something to happen to her. She’s going somewhere and she’s making shit happen. She’s not dressing to get catcalls. We sell some sexy stuff, but it’s really about an attitude.

What are other fashion brands still getting wrong online? What could the big brands learn from you?
A lot of department stores have lost the younger consumer. I’ve been in the showrooms with department-store buyers and I’ve seen how they buy. We buy like a stylist would pull: “That’s awesome, that’s awesome, these two things together.” Not like, “We need to fill knit bottoms, let’s get those knit bottoms.” At the end of the day, it needs to be about something more exciting than that.

Department-store Web sites don’t really understand the power of photography. As for the brands, there are maybe one hundred things to buy on their sites. Their challenges aren’t as large as ours. We have thousands of SKUs on the site at any one time. I think they could probably have a little more fun with using Flash. On the other hand, it has to be, in addition to being beautiful, really smart and easy to use. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is if it’s not easy to use.

I saw on your blog that you met with Natalie Massenet of Net-a-Porter. What was that conversation like?
She’s like me. She’s competing with herself. She’s like, “How can I one-up myself?” She’s not like, “What are other people doing?” She’s a real entrepreneur.

Were the Net-a-Porters of the world on your radar when you were launching Nasty Gal?
I knew about it. I couldn’t afford it at the time. She paved the way for people like me to leave eBay and have a real business online. Obviously I’m not selling $35,000 handbags.

Who are your other icons and other role models for you and your brand?
It hasn’t been announced, but I’m working on a book, and there’s a chapter on role models, called “Kill Your Idols,” that kind of answers your question, I think. If I were staring up, it would keep me down. So I just stare straight ahead and do my best every day. The whole celebrity worship thing, it’s not me…. I want everyone to be her own hero.

Do you want Nasty Gal stores all over the world?
I would love to at some point, but we need to figure out the financial piece of that. It’s a totally different beast of a business to run. I think our brand really lends itself to the real world. People want to participate, they want to hang out with us. There is a “feeling” to what we’re doing. I couldn’t say Shopbop has a feeling, or even Net-a-Porter necessarily. There really is a culture that we’ve built of girls who are really inspired by my story, and the stories of all the girls at our company, whether in PR, art direction, planning. We have a very direct relationship with our customers. They want to know about what we’re doing, and that’s part of what makes them loyal. They feel like they’re part of something. And they are. They’re responsible for building the brand. It’s all been word of mouth. They really are like owners of the brand, in a sense. I give credit to our customers for building the business.

When customers get in touch, what are they saying?
I have about 50,000 followers on Instagram, and they’re like, “I want to work for you, I want to model for you.” Saying you want to work for a company is probably the biggest statement someone could make about wanting to participate with your brand.

How do you see the brand growing?
Intimates are an exciting category; I think there’s a big whole in the market right now. I don’t want to go to Victoria’s Secret, and I don’t really want to go to a department store either. That’s something we’re working on, because there’s Kiki de Montparnasse or some, like, thong, and Kiki de Montparnasse is super-fucking expensive. Plus, it would be fun to see our aesthetic on a line of intimates.

You’ve already got the perfect name for a lingerie collection.
We’re expanding in other ways. We’re looking into cosmetics and fragrance. I want to dress our girl for all the touch points of her life.

Anything you have your eye on, in terms of lines to carry?
I really want to sell Nike. I think it would be great. The colors, the textures. Girls are wearing Nikes with a skirt, and it’s not for exercise; it’s because Nike is making cool shoes. And given the price points of most of what we sell, it’s actually a pretty good fit for us.

So, when can we pick up that memoir?
It’s [more of] a business book-slash-life bible for the girl who wants to make cool shit happen who didn’t go to the right school, basically.

Photo: BFAnyc.com; Courtesy of Nasty Gal

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