The founder of Nasty Gal on critics of the term she popularized, recovering from failure and sexism in Silicon Valley
Being THE Girlboss couldn’t spare Sophia Amoruso from this harrowing encounter.
At the peak of her fame several years ago, the founder of fast fashion brand Nasty Gal was attending an investor-organized party at the SXSW festival in Austin. “I felt like wearing a formfitting dress that night though it’s not like I have a ton of cleavage, and when I leaned over a table to put my drink down, a very prominent attorney said ‘Do that again,’” Amoruso tells Moneyish.
Being catcalled doesn’t happen very often for the 33-year-old, who was called a “Cinderella for tech” and appeared on the cover of Forbes for a story on America’s richest self-made women. “I’m not very approachable,” she says, though Amoruso is quick to add that being friendly is hardly an excuse. “I know I look extra hot and maybe appeared like someone there [just] for the party, but I told him I wasn’t here for his pleasure,” Amoruso says. “And I made him apologize and told a bazillion people about it. He was mortified.”
The entrepreneur is hardly the first women in tech to have dealt with workplace harassment. Uber has changed its senior leadership partly over allegations of corporate misogyny, while Google and major venture capital firms have also been plagued with similar issues. “What’s coming out from Silicon Valley…the insane sexual violence, there’s a lot of education that needs to happen,” Amoruso says, admitting that she’s had to deal with it less due to her relatively prominent position. “I didn’t need to raise money for Nasty Gal until we had $20 million in revenue. Women generally have to work much harder.”
Amoruso has had a tumultuous past 12 months. After a very public struggle, Nasty Gal—which at its peak had estimated revenue of $300 million and was regarded as having cracked the code on selling to millennials—filed for bankruptcy last November. U.K. retailer Booho subequently acquired its intellectual property rights. Girlboss, a Netflix series based off her similarly-titled bestselling memoir was canceled after one season (Vanity Fair wondered if it was the streaming service’s “first truly terrible show.”) She split from her husband of two years last year after they “woke up one day and decided we weren’t right for each other.”
But Amoruso, whose rise and fall from shoplifter to eBay operator and then multimillionaire has captivated many, didn’t lick her wounds for long. “Starting over in the public eye isn’t easy but I’ve a chip on my shoulder and a lot left to work for,” she says.
This summer, she raised $1.2 million in venture funding for Girlboss Media, a publisher of content on female entrepreneurship—and failure. A millennial-friendly entrepreneurship workbook will also be released this year. The first Girlboss rally took place in Los Angeles last March and quickly sold out of tickets that cost as much as $350 each; another event is set for New York this November. Amoruso also retains a loyal following on social media: Girlboss and her personal account have a combined audience of nearly 1 million on Instagram alone.
— Moneyish (@Moneyish) September 20, 2017
When Amoruso launched Nasty Gal, e-commerce was still a relatively new phenomenon. With Girlboss Media however, she’s entering a crowded field that includes Fortune, The Cut and Refinery29. She says she’s planning to stand out by offering a point of view that someone who hasn’t transformed two side hustles into established businesses doesn’t possess.
“While on my book tour, I saw these ambitious and eager girls exchanging business cards with each other,” she says. “They want to find like-minded women and we’re not just media and content but also community and experiences.”
“The core is about helping women redefine success on their own terms,” says Neha Gandhi, Girlboss editor-in-chief and a former editorial leader at Refinery29. “Sitting in a boardroom is a perfectly valid definition of success but Sophia’s journey shows that there are other ideas and paths.”
So how did Girlboss raise funds with a mixed business record? “I was really transparent about the long series of events and mistakes I made and that I’ve learnt from,” Amoruso says, whose former company dealt with lawsuits alleging discrimination against pregnant employees and copyright infringement “There were things that were completely out of my control and decisions we should have made sooner. They’re investing in someone with a PhD in entrepreneurship.”
It may be unfair to keep reminding Amoruso of failure, though she admits she invited some criticism by appearing in Forbes while Nasty Gal was struggling. After all, the tech world is filled with the corpses of dead startups, many of them started by men. “Women get a lot more flak than guys do, but it’s par for course,” Amoruso says. “Fab.com didn’t get as much sh-t and they raised a billion dollars or something.”
Still, not very everyone loves the term “Girlboss” and the derivative “ladyboss,” with some critics arguing those terms trivialize women professionals. “Don’t be so literal,” Amoruso says. “Girl’ is a term that means you’re still growing. It’s not specific to any life stage but about being in a place of growth and the boss of your life.”
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