Forbes has named Sophia Amoruso as one of the richest self-made women in the world. Her fashion brand “Nasty Gal” was listed as one of the fastest-growing companies in 2010. Sophia’s name is often recognized from the Netflix series based on her life called #Girlboss, but her story is so much more than what is represented on screen.
Sophia Amoruso is the epitome of what we advocate for here on SelfMade. She is a self-starter who didn’t let the disadvantages she was born with dictate her success. And even after so many challenges in her career, she hasn’t given up. Sophia grew her fashion brand “Nasty Gal” in 6 years, and went from selling on eBay from the apartment of her bedroom to earning $100 million in revenue per year. Today, she is the founder of Girl Boss Media and is empowering young female entrepreneurs to be the best they can be.
The Rough Start of a Highschool Dropout
Sophia Amoruso was born in 1984 in San Diego, California. Sophia was diagnosed with ADHD and depression, so she struggled with school. She eventually dropped out of high school and completed her GED through homeschooling. Her home life wasn’t perfect either. There was a lot of unhappiness and fighting in her household, and her parents got a divorce just after she received her high school diploma.
Once she turned 18, Sophia quickly moved out of her parent’s house to live in San Francisco. She attempted to take classes at a community college but dropped out once again. At the time, Sophia felt very lost, and she was not sure what she wanted to do with her life. It was a huge struggle to find a place to fit in.
No matter where you are in life, you'll save a lot of time by not worrying too much about what other people think about you. The earlier in your life that you can learn that, the easier the rest of it will be.”-Sophia Amoruso
Sophia lived a nomadic lifestyle traveling up and down the coast of California. She worked at Subway, book stores, a dry-cleaner, a record shop, and other odd jobs. Sophia was hitchhiking, dumpster diving, stealing, and was generally living a wild life without much direction. Since she was living on minimum wage and had trouble keeping one job for long, she struggled to pay rent, and life seemed to be going nowhere fast.
Through all of these struggles, Sophia loved fashion and photography. She had a talent for finding cool vintage items from the thrift store and would modify the clothes to fit her style. At the time, she simply viewed this as a hobby, not a way to make income.
Sometimes, life throws us a curveball. Even if something seems horrible at the time, it's a blessing in disguise. Sophia suffered from a hernia and had to undergo surgery, even though she didn’t have any health insurance. While she recovered from surgery, she found a more sedentary job at the Academy of Art University, where she sat at the front desk to check student IDs. This allowed her to meet other people her age who were passionate about fashion too. If it were not for this boring desk job, she might have never created her dream life.
Turning Second-hand Clothing into a 6-Figure Salary
In 2006, Sophia was sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day as the art school desk clerk. It would be busy when people were going to and from class, but hours could go by where she was doing nothing. For pure entertainment, Sophia decided to open an eBay store and work on it during her downtime. Back then, most people didn’t take eBay sellers seriously. This was an online marketplace where people could buy and sell used goods, like a garage sale. Only 22 years old at the time, Sophia chose the username “Nasty Gal” after her favorite song by Betty Davis.
Once Sophia started spending more time on this side hustle, she realized that high-end pieces she found at thrift stores would sell for several hundred dollars on eBay. Logically, all she needed to do to make a full-time living was find more secondhand high-end pieces and list a larger inventory.
Sophia wanted her online store to look equally as professional as what you would see in a fashion magazine. So she hired aspiring models and friends from the art school to wear the clothing. She would offer free pizza to anyone willing to help. This was a win-win situation for everyone because the girls got the experience and photos for their portfolios, while Sophia got free fashion models. Two years later, in 2008, the eBay store was so successful, she made $223,000 that year. By then, it was clear to her that Nasty Gal was so much more than a side hustle. This had the potential to be an actual company.
Bankruptcy Turned Blessing
After a few years, Sophia began to have issues with eBay. The platform banned links to other websites, which prevented her from growing her social media following. After a while, she realized that their policies were holding her back. Instead of giving up, she created her website and began listing clothing there. Transitioning from eBay to her website ended up being one of the best decisions Sophia ever made. She was finally able to focus on growing her social media following and do all of the marketing necessary to bring traffic to her website.
Abandon anything about your life and habits that might be holding you back. Learn to create your opportunities. Know that there is no finish line; fortune favors action. Race toward the extraordinary life that you’ve always dreamed of.”-Sophia Amoruso
Listing items on her website helped the business grow exponentially, and she was now making millions of dollars in revenue and employing 200 employees. Eventually, Sophia created a Nasty Gal fashion label, and the company began selling brand new clothes that she helped design. By 2014, she was making $100 million per year. Magazines called her “The Cinderella of Tech” and “The Sexiest CEO Alive.
Sophia opened her first brick-and-mortar location in Los Angeles and opened a second Santa Monica location in 2015. After receiving a lot of criticism for her lack of college and business education, she appointed Sheree Waterson as the new CEO in 2015. However, following the traditional model of creating brick-and-mortar locations wasn’t as profitable as Sophia’s original method of selling online. In 2016, Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy, and The BooHoo Group bought it out for $20 million.
The failure of her brick-and-mortar stores was also a blessing in disguise. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of brands ended up experiencing the same struggles. If they didn’t have a big enough online presence, they’re never coming back. To this day, the Nasty Gal website still sells second-hand vintage pieces and follows the same business model she started when she was 22.
The #GirlBoss Revolution
In 2017, Sophia Amoruso decided to shift the direction in her life once again. Instead of selling clothes, she wanted to create a media company that helped empower other young women to pursue their dreams. She wrote a book about her life story called #GIRLBOSS, which was later made into a Netflix TV series.
However, after just one season, the series was canceled because it was felt that Sophia’s character in the show was portrayed as a “narcissistic millennial”.
This negativity didn’t dim Sophia’s shine. Over the last few years, Sophia has devoted her life to becoming a mentor to young women, helping them find the self-confidence to succeed. On her podcast called Girl Boss, Sophia interviews other female entrepreneurs. Before Covid, she also ran weekend retreats called “Girlboss Rallies,” where women can come to build up their confidence as entrepreneurs and network with one another..
The energy you’ll expend focusing on someone else’s life is better spent working on your own. Just be your idol.”-Sophia Amoruso
Even though Nasty Gal has fallen out of the limelight, millions of women still use #girlboss on social media every day. Even if they don’t know where Girl Boss originated, women use it to empower themselves to keep going “like a boss”. Whether it’s completing their degree, starting a business, or just powering through the struggles of life, Sophia teaches us that every woman can be a Girl Boss.
Much like many of the Icons that we feature here on Selfmade, Sophia’s story is about perseverance through adversity. It’s also proof that anyone with a dream can persevere and make it a reality.