Q&A: What Nasty Gal's Sophia Amoruso Didn't Expect About the Fashion Industry
And the five tips that made her hugely successful
By Alyssa Bailey
Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso spent her early 20s hitchhiking up and down the West Coast, dumpster diving for food, and trying to find her place in the world. "Everyone is told to go to high school and get good grades and go to college and get good grades and then get a job and then get a better job," she says. "Theres no one really telling a story about how they totally blew it and they figured it out."
But Amoruso did just that, launching her small vintage clothing eBay store in 2006 and turning it into a major online fashion retailer based in L.A. and Kentucky with hundreds of employees. In her new book, #GIRLBOSS, she writes about her experience and how girls can build their own success by discovering their strengths. Amoruso spoke with Cosmopolitan.com about feeling lost in her early 20s, her company's no-asshole policy, and having dinner with super-fan Lena Dunham.
So many people graduate from college or high school, and dont know what theyre going to do. What was that period like for you?
It was really miserable. I was always telling myself, "I dont want to be good at something, I want to be good at something for my age," which is a really insane way of thinking about the world. I thought I was going to be a photographer. Had I been so attached to the idea, I never would have ever seen the opportunity right in front of me with Nasty Gal. Its important that people are open. Some people say, "Im going to be a doctor," and theyre a really good doctor. But for the rest of us, its a big question mark. Just giving yourself a break, letting yourself try new things, and when something doesnt work out, moving along ... its all we can really do.
You didnt have much money to start, but you have such a successful business now. Was there a moment when you felt you had made it financially?
I bought a Porsche a couple years ago. I tried to get a loan. They wouldnt give me a loan. I tried to get a lease. They wouldnt give me a lease. So I paid cash, which is so gangster. I didnt buy the Porsche for status. I hate that and its actually kind of goofy now because in L.A., a Porsche is like a Honda. It was just that I could pay that much money for a car and drive it off the lot. That was crazy.
We graduate college without a real primer on money. Whats one thing that everyone should understand?
Well, when you owe money to people, youre always going to owe money to people, so you should take care of it as soon as possible. It doesnt go away just because you ignore it. Saving is really important so putting away 10 percent of everything you earn at the very minimum and kind of kissing it good-bye like its on auto-pay. And then just not spending more money than you have. A lot of people get their first paycheck and go buck wild and end up broke again and again and again.
Your company has a no-asshole policy. How do you detect an asshole?
Assholes think they know more than everybody else. Assholes dont listen, and assholes dont negotiate. Assholes say things that hurt peoples feelings. Everyones opinion counts, but theres a way of saying things and theres a certain environment to say them in. Assholes just dont understand.
Youve described the fashion industry as catty. Is there anything you wish you had known before you got into it?
Fashion Week is not all its cracked up to be. You get a piece of bench in a too hot or too cold warehouse. Someone is probably sitting on that piece of bench, and youre forced to say, "Excuse me, thats my piece of bench." If you dont, you just sit next to them and then the next person comes along and has to act like an asshole and ask you to get off their piece of bench. Then like a runway show happens for like five minutes and you have to go swoosh around in the snow and hope your outfit is cool and your shoes are the right season and the right color and youre wearing the right designers. Its like a high school popularity contest and something I am not comfortable participating in, at least at this point of my life. I tried.
Nasty Gal sells a lot of sexy clothes. Do you think dressing that way is empowering to women despite the catcalls?
Men should get used to women dressing sexy and being forced to respect them. I dont think we should have to dress like dudes or like weird ladies in office garb to gain respect. But theres always going to be the contingency of bimbos and dumb dudes for whom dressing sexy is permission to be totally disgusting.
Have you met celebrities who are fans of the brand?
Lena Dunham is a big fan, and thats kind of the biggest deal ever. Weve had dinner. We were both kind of starstruck. I dont think I suck, but shes Lena Dunham.
Which Girls character are you?
Im probably more of Lenas character. She works at a coffee shop. It was like me when I was in my early, early 20s. Like, "What am I doing with my life? I know that Im good at something, but I havent found anything that fits and I find myself in places where people suck and I learn the hard way that what Im doing doesnt work." Thats exactly what shes doing on that show, and thats exactly what I was doing when I was 21.
You just turned 30. What advice would you give that girl?
Calm down! Everything is going to be OK. I was really panicked at 21. I was getting out of a relationship with an alcoholic, and its like, "This too shall pass."
You have such a rag-to-riches story. Do you feel like Cinderella?
No, because shes waiting for her prince! I have a prince at home my boyfriend but my prince is what Ive created in my life, and thats why Im not, like, sweeping floors. I think if girls make their prince be achieving great shit, the world is a better place.
Photo credit: Autum de Wilde; Article via Cosmopolitan.com