By John Ortved
"I'M A CAPITALIST, I'm a CEO, I run a big business, I'm an employer," says Sophia Amoruso, the 29-year-old head of Nasty Gal, the online fashion retail empire that she transformed from an eBay vintage store into a $240 million company in just seven years. "But it's all secondary to the way it happened, because I could be anything."
Sitting in the back garden of New York's Crosby Street Hotel dressed in a crocheted lace dress and a trench draped over her shoulders, Amoruso is reflecting on the period of her life between age 17—when she left home in Sacramento to dumpster dive, work in record stores and side with anarchism while she floated up and down the West Coast—and 22, when she started Nasty Gal. She named the company after the song by funk musician Betty Davis, the second wife of Miles Davis. "I've accepted what I have, and I feel like I've completely done it on my own terms," says Amoruso, who is now based in Los Angeles.
What Amoruso has created is a sizeable niche business in the high-margin fast-fashion space. Her company sells edgy, retro-inspired looks at reasonable prices—$50 tops, $70 dresses—and some actual vintage items to a rabidly loyal customer base of young women, frothed up by almost constant social media interaction. (Detractors might say the hemlines are too high and necklines too low.) Nasty Gal has been experiencing a growth spurt, with no advertising and little discounting. That its successes—and Amoruso—are difficult to characterize has made its ascent all the more enthralling. So what is Nasty Gal, exactly?
It began humbly. In 2006, Amoruso had just dropped out of photography school. She turned her passion for vintage clothes into a small business, run from her Mac laptop in her bedroom of her ex-boyfriend's San Francisco apartment, reselling key finds on eBay and promoting them via Nasty Gal's Myspace page. The entire looks Amoruso constructed, using models and her own styling, were far from the bad photos of an old rock T-shirt on a mannequin that comprises the majority of visual presentation on eBay. She'd sell a Chanel leather jacket she bought for $8 at the Salvation Army for over $1,000. These margins, matched with her careful eye, made for a booming cottage business.
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