Part of Sophia Amoruso’s appeal lies in her utter disregard for rules.
I have been following Amoruso’s story since 2010. From her meteoric rise to one of the most discussed names in fashion with her edgy label, Nasty Gal, clocking over $100 million in sales to declaring bankruptcy in 2016, I’ve followed it all.
Amoruso’s story isn’t the archetype of CEO stories: Till 23, she was a “dumpster-diving shoplifter”. She was a community college dropout. But she knew how to buy vintage clothing for throwaway prices at thrift stores, style them, click herself in those outfits, and sell them online – a skill that helped her build a friggin’ company.
By the end of 2015, Forbes estimated that Nasty Gal had surpassed $300 million in revenues, and in mid 2016, it reported that Amoruso had become one of the richest self-made millionaires, clocking a $280 million fortune.
So when Netflix brought Amoruso’s story to the small screen, with Britt Robertson playing the entrepreneur on the show – which shares its name with #GirlBoss, Amoruso’s bestselling guide for women – I decided to give it a watch.
The show has gotten mostly negative reviews. Much of the criticism that’s come from viewers is centred along the lines of "can’t-relate-to-a mean, self absorbed, entitled-basic-bi*tch-who-will-step-over-anyone-to-build-her-company". Now, I’m not going to comment on the quality of the show. You, the intelligent viewer, can gauge it for yourself.
However, I will say that this criticism interests me because when you think about it, had the central character been a man, would he have gotten as much hatred as Britt Robertson has got, for portraying a character loosely based on Amoruso’s life?
And yet, at the epicentre of this very hatred, armed with that edgy, spunky, I-don’t-care attitude and millennial arrogance of hers, Amoruso was able to create the personal brand that was/is Sophia Amoruso.
Like the woman it is modelled after, even Girlboss attempts to fight the likability factor that accompanies the story of a woman. As the screenwriter of Girlboss, Kay Cannon, says, “I wanted to tell the story of a flawed woman that is not a fairy tale.”
So what led to the tumbling of the Nasty Gal story? The company, that was once a darling of VC firms, spent a majority of its investments on marketing and advertising, and could not sustain its revenues, according to The New York Times. There were also lawsuits from employees charging discrimination, and designers alleging copyright infringement.
In November 2016, Amoruso had to resign as executive chairwoman of the brand. The company was sold to Boohoo, for $20 million.
Sophia Amoruso told Forbes in 2016:
I didn’t love having eight people reporting to me and asking me over and over if we’re hitting targets. I’m a creative. I’m a brand-builder. I’m a rainmaker. I’m a pretty good marketer, but that’s not something I want to do every day.
In many ways, Amoruso is both – a winner and a loser. Yes, her personal net worth has come tumbling down to $10 million. Yes, she had to leave the company that she gave birth to, and was built on her brand. But Girlboss, the movement she created, continues to inspire many women who dream of being their own boss.
She knows she messed up, but she won’t be consumed by the drubbing of a public beating.
Amoruso doesn’t have to start from scratch. Forbes reports her #Girlboss empire includes a 2014 New York Times bestseller, a hit podcast, a coffee table book, and a show. Amoruso is also a regular at speaking events. But she is still struggling from the likability factor. After all, didn’t Hillary Clinton have to fight it too? Flaws are anathema when found on a woman, whether they are cosmetic, moral, pertaining to the character or the handling of a business.