As applications for the 2012 Inc. 500|5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, click here. One that caught our eye was Los Angeles-based Nasty Gal.
Working in the lobby of an art school, then 22-year-old Sophia Amoruso received friend requests on MySpace from eBay vintage clothing sellers. Curious, the vintage lover clicked through their offerings, wondering what kinds of pieces they offered, when it hit her that she could to the same thing.
"I realized that the world is your market," Amoruso says. "I was just like, 'Oh my God, I can find this stuff for way cheaper for what they’re selling it for on eBay,' and I went for it."
She bought a book that spelled out how to start a store on the auction website, and Amuroso launched Nasty Gal in 2006. She said she handled everything from hunting at estate sales and flea markets to learning html to photographing the pieces to writing product descriptions. She even spent late nights adding friends, just like the girls who had inspired her to start her e-tail store.
Now, the online clothing seller offers a variety of vintage and non-vintage pieces to its more than 150,000 shoppers in over 50 countries.
As she had studied photography, Amoruso says a key component to her eBay success lay in the styling and presentation of her products.
"You can turn (an item) into the most covetable piece of vintage because you put it on a girl…who’s showing you how to wear it, having an attitude that’s approachable but still sexy, friendly and cool," she says. "There, you have this whole fantasy from this piece that probably started in a plastic bag in the backroom of a thrift store."
Amoruso grew up with a love for fashion and vintage clothing, but never worked in that industry. Up until then, she had held many jobs—including making donuts in the middle of the night.
When she first started the eBay store, she still worried about her career path, only hoping that Nasty Gal would cover her rent.
"It took me years to realize that I could take this as far as I have," Amoruso says. "I was thinking, 'What am I going to do with my life?' This works for now, but do I want to schlep on eBay for the rest of my life?"
But that schlep has transformed into a profitable business. After about a year and a half, Nasty Gal left eBay and moved to its own URL, and not too long after, Amoruso hired her first employee. Today, the e-tailer has approximately 110 employees and a 2011 revenue of $24 million—a 11,200% three-year growth rate.
Amoruso says that the company has grown mainly through word of mouth, as Nasty Gal garners more than 275,000 Facebook fans and 35,000 Twitter followers, and her young clientele—of which 37% is international—can further connect with the brand through the company’s blog.
Nasty Gal just revamped its blog, which will now include Sophia’s Corner, shedding light on the founder’s fashion insights. With the recent $9 million investment from Index Ventures’ Growth Fund, Nasty Gal prepares for future expansion. Currently, Amoruso plans to launch her own collection later this year.
Named after a song by funk singer Betty Davis, Nasty Gal gears toward a savvy, fashion-forward shopper, Amoruso says. She was inspired by Davis’s confident, self-aware attitude, which her products embody.
"When I chose a business name, I never expected to be saying it for the rest of my life," she says. "But here we are."