If ever there were a Cinderella of tech, Sophia Amoruso might be it. In 2006, she was a 22-year-old community college dropout in California, living in her step-aunt's cottage, working at an art school checking student IDs for $13 an hour. Then she started a side project, Nasty Gal, an eBay page that sold vintage women's clothing.
Last year, Nasty Gal sold nearly $100 million of clothing and accessories — profitably.
Amoruso has amassed a cult following of 20-something women. Nasty Gal has half a million followers on Facebook and 600,000 on Instagram. But it is not well known beyond that base.
"People say, 'Nasty Gal? What's that?' " Amoruso, now 28, said in an interview at her headquarters in Los Angeles. "I tell them, 'It's the fastest-growing retailer in the country.' "
In 2006, she started an eBay page to sell some vintage designer items she found at Goodwill. She bought a Chanel jacket at a Salvation Army store for $8 and sold it for $1,000. She found Yves Saint Laurent clothing online on the cheap by Googling misspellings of the designer's name, reasoning that anyone who didn't know how to spell it probably didn't realize his value. She named the eBay page "Nasty Gal" after the 1975 album by the funk singer Betty Davis.
Amoruso's look and attitude resonated with the type of young, body-confident women who would not be caught dead in Tory Burch. Soon, her finds ignited bidding wars among shoppers from Australia to Britain.
Amoruso soon outgrew eBay, which she said was a terrible platform to start a business. Competitors started flagging Nasty Gal for breaking the site's rules by, for example, linking to Amoruso's Myspace page. Fed up, she decided it was time to start ShopNastyGal.com. (At the time, NastyGal.com belonged to a porn site. Nasty Gal now owns the domain.)
She eventually abandoned Myspace for Facebook, where she tantalized fans with coming inventory, from cheap shrunken motorcycle jackets to high-end vintage Versace clothing.
Amoruso knew Nasty Gal couldn't grow by selling one-off vintage items forever; customers were asking why she didn't have more sizes. So she began to experiment with buying vintage-inspired clothes from established vendors, but higher-end brands weren't thrilled at the idea of having their product sold by a brand called Nasty Gal.
Sam Edelman, the shoe brand, initially gave Amoruso the cold shoulder in a meeting. She charged back an hour later, showed them Nasty Gal's website on her iPhone and promised to deliver the brand some street cred. Sam Edelman acquiesced. That opened the door for a deal with Jeffrey Campbell, another shoemaker.
Some fashion industry analysts say Nasty Gal's success will be difficult to sustain.
Amoruso is hardly ignorant of that possibility. "I'm not willing to rest on my laurels," she said. "It's only going to get harder to keep building from here."