Sunday 4 December 2016

What's next for the original #GirlBoss?

It was the fastest-growing website in retail history, and made its founder one of the richest self-made millionaires in fashion. So just what contributed to NastyGal.com's bankruptcy?

Eva Hall

Published 18/11/2016 | 02:30

Self-made: Sophia Amoruso launches her first memoir '#GirlBoss', based on her rags-to-riches fame tale of how she set up NastyGal.com
Self-made: Sophia Amoruso launches her first memoir '#GirlBoss', based on her rags-to-riches fame tale of how she set up NastyGal.com
Designer: Taylor Swift in her Balmain jumpsuit, not the Nasty Gal knock-off
Sophia Webster v Nasty Gal
Moschino Biker Bag
Givenchy V Nasty Gal

It was the week that was labelled 'a failure for feminism' after Hillary Clinton's historical US defeat to now President-elect, Donald Trump. But behind the doors of an LA courtroom that same Wednesday, another kind of failure was brewing, when online retailer Nasty Gal, the company behind the feminist movement #GirlBoss, filed for bankruptcy. And in a further blow to the fast-fashion company's feminist followers everywhere, Nasty Gal's founder Sophia Amoruso, stepped down as executive chairperson, having already relinquished her CEO title last year.

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The Chapter 11 filing sent shockwaves through both the fashion and tech world. Nasty Gal was, after all, a classic rags-to-riches tale.

In 2006, Amoruso, then 22 years old, established the domain name NastyGal.com to continue selling her vintage designer clothes online, having been kicked off ebay for violating the site's policy. Amoruso's niche was sourcing rare vintage designer finds, like a Chanel jacket she purchased for $8, and sold on for $1,000, and shipping to customers within one day of purchase.

Between 2012 and 2015, she managed to raise an astonishing $65m in capital, including $49m from Index Ventures, which has leading tech companies like Skype, Deliveroo, Facebook and Etsy on its books.

By 2015, NastyGal.com had an estimated revenue of $300m, with an estimated annual growth rate of 92.4pc (to put that into perspective, the average growth for an online retail store is about 15pc), and Amoruso herself - then just 31 - had cemented herself as a leading light in both the tech and fashion worlds, with a reported net worth of $280m.

Not bad for a for a high-school dropout who claims to have spent her formative years hitchhiking and stealing from bins.

Amoruso went on to become a one-woman feminist powerhouse, earning herself a slot as the youngest entrant on 'Forbes'' Richest Self-Made Women list and writing a best-selling book entitled '#GirlBoss'.

Fast forward less than 12 months, Amoruso now finds herself locked out of the company she founded, struggling to get capital to break even, while 'Forbes' has reported she would no longer be part of its Rich List. So where did it all go wrong?

In the last five years, Nasty Gal expanded its portfolio, by not only stocking modern brands, such as Jeffrey Campbell shoes and Skinny Dip accessories, but by developing its own in-house design team, which shifted its USP from designer vintage to retail items. The target audience was clearly millenials; handbags with sassy slogans, swimsuits with cut-outs, platform over-the-knee boots. But with great power comes great responsibility- and even greater consequences - and Nasty Gal has found itself hawled before the courts in plagiarism lawsuits more times than not.

In 2011, the LA-based company felt the wrath of biker gang Hells Angels, when they attempted to sell T-shirts with the club's logo on them. The club sued the company for breaching its intellectual property, and the matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 2012.

Also in 2012, UK-based designer Sophia Webster took to Instagram to call out Nasty Gal for their 'copycat' bag of her own design. Webster accused the retailer of reproducing her speech bubble clutch with a different slogan, in fake leather, and selling it for $48, while Webster's original retailed for $400. The British design house received support from Vogue UK while Nasty Gal refused to comment on the matter.

In 2014, Texas-based jewellery designer Jamie Spinello sued Nasty Gal for copyright infringement after claiming the brand copied her designs. The matter was settled out of court before a trial commenced, but it was reported Nasty Gal paid Spinello a six-figure sum.

Throughout 2015, the company was sued by four former employees claiming they were unfairly dismissed, three of which involved maternity leave. All were settled out of court, with the court decisions confidential, however industry experts say it is likely substantial monetary values were awarded before trials commenced.

There have also been myriad comparisons online between Nasty Gal's jewellery and indie jewellery designers selling on etsy.com, as well as high-fashion designers such as Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, Moschino, Celine and Balmain. One jumpsuit in particular was so similar to a Balmain design that Nasty Gal instagrammed a photo of Taylor Swift at the Billboard Awards earlier this year with the caption: "one piece wonder @taylorswift in the #NastyGal Frisco Inferno Jumpsuit at the @officalbbmas #NastyGalsDoItBetter", only for Balmain to confirm Taylor was in fact, wearing a Balmain jumpsuit.

At the time of writing, there is an ongoing court case between Nasty Gal and jewellery designer Pamela Love, who is listed as a 'creditor' of Nasty Gal, suggesting the retailer has acknowledged they owe her money. In response to all the plagiarism claims, Amoruso herself has been less than kind, claiming being ripped off in the fashion world is a "rite of passage". In an Instagram post from 2013, she told one independent jewellery designer who claimed she copied her bracelet design: "We are pulling it from the site. Forgive us for never having heard of you and give me a break for having done so. There are better ways of eliciting a response from us and it starts with being polite. Congrats, you've been knocked off. It's a rite of passage."

Amoruso went on to call the jewellery designer "whatsherface" and referred to the bracelet as "goofy", sparking a social media war between her army of #GirlBoss followers and thousands of Instagram users sticking up for the little guy.

While Nasty Gal is certainly not the first retailer to rip off high-end or even independent designs and sell them for a fraction of the price - Zara, Urban Outfitters, Dunnes Stores have all been hit with similar lawsuits - Nasty Gal's response has surely contributed to the company's downfall.

Customer dissatisfaction in Nasty Gal also grew - disgruntled punters have taken to online threads to decry the declining quality of garments and the ever-increasing price. The website doesn't specify in its fine print that customers in Ireland may have to pay customs duty and VAT when the product is delivered to the door, despite already paying $15 in delivery charges.

It's also claimed that as her star grew, Amoruso created a "toxic environment" to work in, according to former employees.

Amoruso hired herself an agent, and the #GirlBoss brand became much more about her than the business - it's reported her first memoir didn't shift as many copies as the promotion trail suggested, and it's claimed she focused much more on 'brand Amoruso' than her website.

So what's next for the self-made millionaire? Her first book is being made into a Netflix series in 2017, produced by Charlize Theron, and she has just released her second book 'Nasty Galaxy', which has the tagline 'this is not a style book. It's not about how to mix prints - it's about how to leave yours on everything you touch'.

Meanwhile Nasty Gal's new CEO Sheree Waterson, a former chief product officer at Lululemon, announced the online store would remain open for business during the ongoing Chapter 11 controversy: "We expect to maintain our high level of customer service and emerge stronger and even better able to deliver the product and experience that our customers expect."

Whether Amoruso's army of #GirlBoss followers will continue to support her in her time of need is anyone's guess. Earlier this year the media mogul told 'Forbes': "I'm a creative. I'm a brand-builder. I'm a rainmaker."

Now more than ever, it's time to make it rain.

Nasty Gal's copycat items

Sophia Webster V Nasty Gal

2016-11-17_lif_26390074_I2.JPG  

In 2012 Webster claimed on social media Nasty Gal had ripped off her 'Say My Name' clutch bag with a 'WTF?' pleather version.

Moschino V Nasty Gal

Jeremy Scott for Moschino fans were up in arms last year when Nasty Gal reproduced an almost exact replica of Scott's biker jacket handbag. It is widely believed Moschino didn't sue because their own design was a reminagining of Saint Laurent's 2013 moto bucket bag.

Givenchy V Nasty Gal

2016-11-17_lif_26391607_I5.JPG  

In 2013, Nasty Gal released its 'Vicious Tote', which was very similar to Givenchy's 'Rottweiler Antigona Tote', right down to the handle straps and photo.

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