Nasty Gal – A review of Sophia Amoruso’s #Girlboss + Actionable Insights

In the last month or so, I have managed to catch up on all some things Nasty Gal; from reading #Girlboss to watching all episodes of Netflix’s now cancelled show; Girlboss, based on the #Girlboss book and produced by both Sophia Amoruso and Charlize Theron. For clarity sake, #Girlboss is the actual name of the book and Girlboss (without the hashtag) is the name of the show.

A bit of background…

In case you have no idea what I’m rambling about, Nasty Gal is an american fashion retailer for women. The company was founded by Sophie Amoruso; where it was first launched as an ebay store under the name, Nasty Gal Vintage. Sophia opened up Nasty Gal Vintage at age 22 in 2006 and by 2014, it grew to a $100-million-plus business and was at some point reported to be doing approximately $300 million in sales annually.

Sophia wrote the autobiography #Girlboss and landed a deal with Netflix, for a show loosely based on her autobiography. A few years after the release of the book and announcement of the show, Nasty Gal declared bankruptcy and was subsequently bought for a mere $20 million by another fashion retailer, Boohoo.com. Following Nasty Gal’s fall, Sophia has since moved on to her next venture, Girl Boss media; built off the earlier success of Nasty Gal. Girl Boss media is all about female empowerment and supporting female led entrepreneurial pursuits.

girl-boss cover.jpg

#Girlboss – Who is it for?

I refer to #Girlboss as an autobiography loosely, as a large chunk of its content is Sophia giving advice on what and who a Girlboss should be. The book fits somewhere between Self development and Autobiography. #Girlboss is reminiscent of Lily Singh’s How to a bawse, because of the similar ‘I don’t take myself too seriously’ writing style and shared theme of Female Boss-ology. You can check out my review of the latter here.

Admittedly, both #Girlboss and How to be a bawse did not leave me with very clear feelings. It’s not a ‘Yes! you’ve absolutely got to read this’ and its not a ‘Don’t bother, this is a total waste of time’ either. I did some research and reviews from other readers displayed polar responses, where some absolutely loved it and others thought it was average at best, neither of which came as a surprise to me.

I love stories and truly believe that anyone who bothers to share their journey or story with the world is offering a gift – a model through which others can build on. Hence, a story has to be absolutely distasteful to get a scathing review from me. That being said, I have since discovered that books like #Girlboss and How to be a bawse have left me with a lukewarm feeling not because they tell average stories or dish out bad advice but because I perceive them to be for a younger audience or perhaps more accurate, an audience with less  life experience.

I might have found more actionable insights reading this as a 17 year old than now at 24. This is not to say that I do not recommend the book, in fact I think it could be an insightful book for its intended demographic and if I chose to write a post on recommended literature for people from ages 15 to 21 or people just starting out with figuring out entrepreneurial pathways, #Girlboss will definitely be considered. I also recommend #Girlboss to anyone with a specific interest in the fashion industry or thinking about building a brand. I believe there are lots to unpack for the fashion-centric pathfinder and I would even recommend giving the Netflix show a go, just to provide a bit of a visual (albeit a ‘real loose’ version of reality) for some of the work that went into building the Nasty Gal brand.

#Girlboss – Actionable Insights

#Girlboss stands out amongst archetypal founding stories because Sophia possessed none of the elements that are often echoed in other founding stories. No university degree (I mean at least a ‘drop-out’ status would have been a step up) , a dysfunctional early  education, no overly supportive family system, she didn’t come from money and she was a self proclaimed anarchist with a history of shoplifting and freeganism.

A major laugh out loud moment for me in finding out more about Sophia’s story was her awkwardness in trying to fit in the venture capital scene when seeking funding for Nasty Gal. She didn’t know how to create a power point presentation and would turn up to pitching sessions without a deck. How did you build a multi-million dollar business again? For all her oddities, hers is a story worth checking out and since I am obsessed with life-learning, these are some of my personal actionable insights from #Girlboss.

1.”All things work together for good”…

I’m reminded of a popular bible verse amongst christian circles, containing the phrase “All things work together for good…” Of course, there’s more to the verse but this isn’t really about that. Sophia mentions seemingly random interests, being some of the things that made the Nasty Gal brand stand out; an interest in photography gave her an advantage over other vintage sellers on ebay who didn’t pay more attention to lighting or composition. Wanting to be in a band; understandably, she had a stint as an employee in a record store, which gave her a unique cultural and musical awareness that was reflected in Nasty Gal. An interest in going to art school is evident in the creativity and inspiration that went into building a brand like Nasty Gal.

“One of the best things about life – a reason not to go blindly after one goal and one goal only – is that sometimes it will take you to something that is way cooler than anything you would have consciously set out to do in the first place”.

“All of that flailing about, trying new things and finding out that I liked some of them and hated others, ended up amalgamating into something very real and meaningful, and in the end, made me capable of providing a life for myself”.

This kind of reminds me of a post I wrote, A little reminder to have faith – lessons from my doorstop; about believing in a purpose for seemingly meaningless things. It’s super hard to do but sometimes it’s essential to keep sane in a life where not everything makes sense. In my post, I called it ‘Trusting in the process’. I like how Sophia puts it – “I also think you have to leave room for the universe to have its way and play around.

This is not unlike the popular story behind the Steve Job’s inspiration for the macintosh typography. Here’s an excerpt from his commencement speech at Stanford:

“I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to [learn calligraphy]. I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful. Historical. Artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture. And I found it fascinating. None of this had any hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever

2. I. Am. Introvert.

God knows I’ve had my fair share of trouble for being an introvert. That’s kind of a contradiction right? I mean you’d think we’d just be wallflowers in peace, but no.

Anyone who grew up in an African household can attest to the constant teasing and sometimes chastising (yes!) that comes from adults for being too quiet or just not being overly chummy with other kids. Well at least you know this if you were the ‘quiet’ kid. The irony is being introverted often got me more attention which was the one thing I was trying to avoid in the first place.

Fast forward to adulthood when you start having conversations with yourself about what other people are thinking because you decided to read a book at lunch time instead of joining the lunch crowd at work, when in fact, you are happiest reading the book! “Do they think I’m weird? Maybe I’m antisocial? I could hang with them for 30 minutes and then come back and read for 15 minutes? Hmm, I might get a bad rep for this? Do they think I hate them? because I really don’t…oooh or maybe I can eat with them twice a week and read the remaining three days? Hmmm… I dunno, I’d rather just read this book to be honest” Were you as exhausted reading that as I was writing that? By the way, I totally read the entire #Girlboss book over lunchtimes for two weeks. That’s a time management tip for you the next time you mention not having enough time to read – 30 minutes a day goes a long way.

For the longest time, I rejected being an introvert because I didn’t always completely fit into some of the connotations that came with introversion; shyness, reclusion or whatever other negative connotations were attached to it a particular time. Thankfully, I am more educated about what introversion is and it’s simply about what energises a person. Extroverts get energy from being around a lot of people and introverts find exposure to large groups draining and require time alone to recharge. This is not a bunch of psychoanalysis BS, it is actually biologically proven that introverts and extroverts process external stimuli via different pathways in the brain!  There’s a lot of science behind both behavioural traits. When I figured this out, I could proudly wave the introvert flag . I had found my peoples.

Sophia attributes a lot of the early success of Nasty Gal to her introversion. Some of the things she mentions are being overly detail oriented (a trait common amongst introverts) with initially building an ebay store, making fewer risky financial decisions, being more persistent in facing difficult problems and showing highly creative traits. This is not meant to serve as a form of positive discrimination or imply that extroverts cannot possess all of these traits. These are just some traits that have been closely linked to introversion and something to encourage us ‘inward’ people.

Sophia adds that introverts are often not perceived as leadership material in the work environment, even though introverted people frequently make more empathetic managers. Till date, I have worked under six different managers, of which four have commended me on an unexpected or unusual proficiency at developing trust amongst colleagues, fostering team spirit and engaging with others at a level where other more experienced professionals have failed. When I reflect on all these experiences, I am confident that this trait comes from empathy that is driven by my introversion; a sensitivity to  social behaviour  that enables me make others feel valued, thereby gaining trust.

The world as a whole (from kindergarten to the boardroom) is designed to reward extroversion and so introverts often feel the need to be more, to do more and to be seen more. However we must realise that with our design, comes different features which allow us to be valuable in different ways. I am reminded of a TED talk by Brian Little which absolutely shattered the divide between introversion and extroversion for me. I learnt that it is not about whether one is an introvert or extrovert. Both are valuable in their unique ways. It is about when an individual is able to transcend or at least recognise a situation for which they make the choice to transcend their innate traits because culture, the given situation or they demand it of themselves.

Fun fact – In Japan, eating alone is quite common and many restaurants make provisions for this.

I always knew I had some asian in me.

 

Words: Jennifer
Photos: Nasty Gal logo; designed by motherdesign and  the #Girlboss book cover 

 

If you’re curious about how Nasty Gal went Bankrupt, check here and here. I do not vouch for the accuracy of these accounts. 

 

 

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