Tastemaker: Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso Is Building an Indie Fashion Empire

Photo: Devyn Galindo

Back in 2006, San Francisco native Sophia Amoruso began a small business on Ebay selling clothes and accessories she had culled from vintage stores around town. Calling her shop “Nasty Gal” (after seventies funk singer Betty Davis’s cult album), Amoruso used friends to model the  merchandise, which she styled with contemporary pieces. Business took off almost instantly, as “Nasty Gal” attracted bidders willing to pay, in one case, $1,000 for a eighties Chanel jacket she had bought for just $20. In 2008 Amoruso launched her own retail site, where she expanded beyond vintage finds to include under-the-radar labels like Shakuhachi, We are Handsome, and Clover Canyon.  This year the 28-year-old is on track to make $128 million in sales.

And why stop there? Amoruso also recently debuted her own print magazine, Super Nasty, which features contributions by the likes of Terry RichardsonGirls writer Leslie Arfin, and up-and-coming photographer Hugh Lippe. And this season she has earned the right to call herself a designer too. Dubbed “Weird Science,” her first fashion collection features high-waisted jeans, motorcycle jackets, and body conscious dresses, all in the signature sexy, rock-and-roll, bohemian spirit of Nasty Gal — with a techno twist. “The color palette came out of a photo of network cables, a jumble of neon colored wires” she tells The Cut. “We’re exploring the fact that we’ve been online all this time, but now we actually get to make things for our customers.” We caught up with Amoruso to chat about her “super body confident” customers, her social media strategies, and  her tips for buying vintage.

Do you ever get any backlash about the name “Nasty Gal”?

The name is kind of a litmus test. I liken it to a line from a Betty Davis song: “If you don’t like me, I don’t care.” It’s for the girl who can see past the name or think of the word nasty beyond its literal meaning. And if you find the name really so shocking, there’s probably a better place for you to shop anyway.        

You have a really specific customer. Who is she?

She’s in her late teens or early-mid twenties and super body confident. She knows how to dress for her shape and isn’t afraid of wearing makeup and short skirts and being sexy. She’s into fashion but her taste doesn’t just apply to what she wears: It applies to food, interior design, and travel. She wants to have awesome experiences and be the best-dressed girl around — without spending an arm and a leg.

What’s your favorite piece in the collection?

The leather jacket with the fringe is really special, dramatic, and also wearable. It’s sheer in back, and the fringe hits almost to your knees. To walk down the street in it is pretty badass. I would wear it with high-waisted jeans or a minidress.

What made you  want to do a magazine now?

Honestly — and this is in my goofy letter from the editor — it’s basically that we had this budget for a video and we wondered, “Do web videos really work? We’re not sure. Holy shit we have a budget. Let’s make a magazine!”

Social media has been key to your business. You guys do some amazing contests with great prizes. How have people responded?

We had an Instagram contest where the girls had to write the phrase “Nasty Gals Do It Better” on something — themselves, a piece of clothing, fly a plane through the sky and leave it in the clouds — no one did that though. I picked one that was this guy [who] wrote it on the back of his hand and made a peace sign … while sitting in the Oval Office. It was not Photoshopped! Obama is there in the background.

You started off selling vintage, what advice do you have for shopping or selling vintage?

Some of the best things that I ever sold on Ebay, I bought on Ebay, just for way less. Some old lady who wore something once writes that label name on the listing, throws the thing on her carpet and takes a really ugly picture of it. A lot of people on Ebay who don’t know how to market, who don’t know the value what they have, are like Oh, I just have some old stuff. I could potentially pay 50 bucks for something if I know it’s really amazing, start it at $9.99, have customers bid on it, and it would almost always sell for way more than I paid for it.

What’s the first designer item that you ever bought?

I think it was a pair of Alexander Wang boots from maybe 2009. That was the most expensive pair of shoes I had ever bought. I was like, I’m going to fashion week, I’m going to buy some boots.

Click ahead to view images from Super Nasty. The Nasty Gal Collection is available now at Nasty Gal.

Tastemaker: Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso