Thursday 19 October 2017

Can Girlboss cure your Girls withdrawals?

Suffering from 'Girls' withdrawal? Our reporter previews the Netflix series set to take the female-focused comedy genre by storm

Rags to riches: Britt Robertson plays Amoruso in Girlboss
Rags to riches: Britt Robertson plays Amoruso in Girlboss
Sophia Amoruso

Tanya Sweeney

With the demise of Girls and the likes of Broad City and Catastrophe taking a break from our screens, fans of 'for-her' comedy have been chomping at the bit for fresh blood. And the stranger-than-fiction tale of Sophia Amoruso, fashion retailer and founder of the #Girlboss movement, is a supremely good place to start.

It's quite likely you've already heard the rags to riches (and back to rags) tale of Amoruso. Living a nomadic lifestyle in her teens and bounding from one McJob to the next (and dumpster diving in between), Amoruso was too busy being in survival mode to harbour any real dreams of fame and fortune. She was a teenage dirtbag, baby, and unapologetically so.

At the age of 22, and with a keen eye for a vintage bargain, she opened an online eBay store, Nasty Gal vintage. According to lore, the very first item she sold online was a fashion book she had stolen as a teenager. Yet her trajectory was stalled when she parted ways with eBay (she denies artificially inflating prices), prompting her to set up her own website. With fashion fans flocking there, the New York Times anointed Amoruso the 'Cinderella of tech'.

"You know the way people flip houses? Well, I flip clothes," the feisty Amoruso (played by Britt Robertson) announces in Girlboss, the TV series that arose from Amoruso's bestselling book and premieres on Netflix today. Part memoir, part self-help tome, part feminist call to arms, Girlboss is the extraordinary story of a company that boasted a $300m revenue within a couple of years, and the woman behind it who went on to amass a personal net worth of $180m.

Set in the mid-Noughties in San Francisco, the Netflix series - executive produced by Charlize Theron, who bought the rights to the book after reading it on a plane - focuses on Amoruso's remarkable climb from trainwreck to business/fashion icon heading up a staff of 350.

All told, Netflix's handling of the Girlboss tale is deft: the script is nicely zesty, the fashion is predictably a treat for the eyes, and Robertson is likeable enough to make Sophia a TV character to really get behind. In the series, the fabled book from the first sell is replaced by a vintage leather jacket: a thrilling scene when she buys it for half-nothing in a charity shop.

Yet Nasty Gal and Amoruso's nosebleed trip to the top was followed by an even more extraordinary footnote not (yet) explored in the Netflix series: almost as quickly as Nasty Gal amassed a fortune, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The company remains intact, but Amoruso (below) will reportedly be less hands-on, paving the way for new CEO Sheree Waterson: retail giant Boohoo.com acquired Nasty Gal last February. To observe that the TV series is coming at an interesting time is putting it rather mildly.

To anyone who read Girlboss, it will come as no surprise to see Amoruso upcycle the unfortunate episode. If you've not had failures, she posits, you've not really lived as an entrepreneur. And the move to file for bankruptcy, Amoruso has said, "is actually the most responsible decision for the business".

According to Kay Cannon, creator of the TV show, Amoruso's resilience in the face of adversity was a huge draw for her.

"Society has this deeply rooted love of seeing women fail," said Cannon at this week's Girlboss premiere in Los Angeles. "I wanted to do this story because I wanted to show that you can fail and be ok, and to show women - especially young women - that it's okay to suck as long as you pick yourself up and start again. I love that she's flawed and kind of an a**hole, because you know she is going to grow."

Theron, too, thinks that Amoruso's unique story will appeal to a whole new TV audience. "I think men get to fail and it's more forgiving in our society," she said. "It's something, as women, that is not celebrated as much. But things are slowly changing in our society and I hope Girlboss can be a part of that change."

It's likely that if Netflix orders up more seasons of Girlboss, Nasty Gal's journey towards bankruptcy will feature in the future: as it stands, the last episode of the first season takes us up to 2008.

For her part, Amoruso is forging ahead with a fresh focus: "It's easy in this world to be distracted and to have a thousand ideas about what you want to do, and there can be death by a thousand yeses, so choosing very wisely what I do next is really important and not finding myself distracted by choosing too many things."

Girlboss is on Netflix now

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