Like many aspiring an aspiring #GirlBoss, I’ve followed Sophia Amoruso’s story with great interest. From her start “dumpster diving” and selling clothes on eBay to starting Nasty Gal in 2006 to writing a breakout autobiography in 2014 – she’s certainly had a busy decade.
On it’s head, her story represented a more down-to-earth version of “Leaning In,” for those of us not bankrolled by mammoth, global companies. Amoruso worked fast and furiously and built herself a #GirlBoss empire.
Just two years ago, I gave a then-direct report her book , #Girlboss, as a holiday present with an inscription along the lines of, ‘hey, we can do this too!’.
And, though I had no plans to open my own start-up any time soon, it really felt like it was possible. In talking with girlfriends, many felt inspired by Amoruso’s hard work.
So, reading about NastyGirl’s fall from grace, all the way to bankruptcy court, is a mega bummer.
But it’s not like it happened overnight.
What happened to Nasty Gal?
Reading reports from The Los Angeles Times and WSJ, Nasty Gal’s demise actually wasn’t so unique. They raised capital and scaled quickly, spent a lot of money on marketing and, ultimately, couldn’t convert one-time buyers into loyal customers. They lost out to the Zara’s and H&M’s of the world.
Clearly, that’s a big problem. But internal culture also affected the business’ success.
There are reports that Amoruso ultimately spent too much time promoting her own brand and creative efforts.
There were also articles from as early as summer 2015 from sites like Jezebel that detail the culture of Nasty Gal hitting rock bottom, leading to an exodus of talent.
To be honest, reading some of the accusations, it’s impressive that Nasty Gal hung on for as long as it did. It’s also unfortunate that someone with as much star power as Amoruso couldn’t share some of her shine with those below her, propping her up.
What are the business takeaways from Nasty Gal’s failure?
As a marketer with an eye perpetually turned to my overall budget, it’s clear that testing and learning could have helped Nasty Gal spend smarter. A/B testing and multivariate testing are even easier now with the rise of marketing automation tools and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.
Additionally, while Nasty Gal had a distinct brand with a clear demographic base, they weren’t able to win loyalty, and it’s unclear why.
I wonder if they took the time to really get into the head of their customer or if that got scrapped in their quick rise to the top. I would think that they’d be able to easily differentiate themselves from the “corporate” vibe of fast-fashion retailers, but it appears not.
The biggest issue, though, may have been the toxic work culture. Yes, Sophia Amoruso saw personal success, but it appears to have come at large expense to Nasty Gal as a business.
Employees who feel unrecognized and taken advantage of are never going do their best work. The best employees will leave (as many did, per Jezebel) and the rest will be unengaged, doing the bare minimum.
After all, as any good #GirlBoss knows, team success > individual success.