Nasty Gal CEO talks fashion, success and cultivating her brand

By: 

Managing Editor

Although the second day of the South by Southwest Interactive was plagued by rainstorms, one unique fashion mogul lit up the stage while discussing her road to success in creating her estimated $100 million clothing brand Nasty Gal.

At the mere age of 29, Sophia Amoruso, a self-proclaimed introvert, has cultivated her love of fashion for women in their teens and 20s from a small eBay business into a global fashion empire. Founded in 2006, the American-based online retailer specializes in clothing, shoes and accessories. Christine Lagorio, senior writer at Inc. Magazine, posed her own questions to Amoruso and opened up the conversation toward the end of the session to audience members.

Amoruso described her childhood as one full of “angst” where she struggled to find her niche in the suburban community she grew up in. She worked “a thousand” different jobs while growing up and moved all around the country in her early 20s.

“I never expected to end up the CEO of what’s now a corporation,” Amoruso said. “It was my full intent as a teenager to smash capitalism and eat garbage food. It’s been one hell of a ride.”

Before starting Nasty Gal at age 22, Amoruso said she worked as a “cheaper version of a security guard” scanning student IDs at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. While sitting in the lobby of her workplace, she began racking up friend requests on MySpace and figured she could try to market her love of vintage clothing online. Around the same time, Amoruso had her first entrepreneurial experience, which she said consisted of selling stolen books on Amazon.

“I learned the life I have now is much more free than the life I tried to put myself in as a teenager,” Amoruso said. “I put myself in places I guess at a young age, and it allowed me to learn about the world that most people don’t experience.”

Amoruso said she began using amassing MySpace friends and pushing vintage fashion products out to her followers, which quickly totaled 60,000. More than a decade later, Nasty Gal has expanded from Amoruso’s sole efforts to become a venture capitalist-supported, women-led online company with 300 employees who engage their customers on several social media platforms.

Despite her success, Amoruso said she stays humble and frugal.

“I have doubts every day about the success of my business, and I have to overcome them every day to sleep at night,” Amoruso said. “There’s no end point. When you’re running a business, you have to imagine everything is on fire all the time.”

Amoruso’s business philosophy centers on surrounding herself with positive, intelligent people, and she implements a so-called “no assholes policy” to prevent “bitchiness” in the office.

Recently named “sexiest CEO alive” in October 2013 by Business Insider, Amoruso continues to pave her own path in the digital fashion industry. Amoruso said she looks forward to moving the Nasty Gal brand into its own storefronts and will release her first book, “Girl Boss,” in May.