Speaking Thursday at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston, Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso discussed her branding ambitions for the online fashion retailer she's spent the last nine years building: It's to become a lifestyle brand that transcends mere fashion, in the same way Red Bull's brand now transcends energy drinks.
Amoruso, 31, cited Red Bull specifically when moderator Marian Heard asked her about her plans and dreams for 2016. Amoruso explained that her vision involves meshing the two brands she's created: Nasty Gal itself, the $100-million clothing retailer, and #GIRLBOSS, the title of her bestselling memoir and business book, which dubs itself a "millennial alternative to Lean In" (a reference to the bestselling memoir and business book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg).
"For me it's all about connecting #GIRLBOSS as a book to Nasty Gal as a brand," Amoruso told the a crowd of roughly 10,000 attendees. "It's about connecting the dots. I like building new things. How do you make something greater than the sum of its parts? We'd like to be something like a Red Bull."
Red Bull, if you hadn't noticed, has evolved as a brand toward an identity that goes well beyond energy drinks. For instance, as my colleague Jeff Bercovici recently reported, Red Bull recently held a six-day clinic for Silicon Valley execs under the aegis of its High Performance program. It was called "Performing Under Pressure," and it helped the execs learn performance-enhancement techniques from the extreme-sports world. It was led by Andy Walshe, a former performance director of the U.S. Olympic ski team, and one of the speakers was Michael Johnson, the great Olympic sprinter.
So when Amoruso mentions Red Bull, she's talking about a brand that has morphed from its flagship entity--beverages--to the larger ideas informing the brand's identity. You can see how it would make sense for the Nasty Gal brand to follow a comparable playbook, morphing from hip apparel for young women to all-around lifestyle brand for the same audience, based on principles Amoruso espouses in her bestselling book.
One of those principles, she told the audience, was to take action for yourself--not to wait around for your dream mentor to discover you and lead you by the hand to your vocational destiny. "Mentorship is a nice thing to have, but at end of day you have to be your own mentor," she said. "I watched videos of speakers giving advice on YouTube. That was my mentorship. You can seek [mentorship] out, but if you're going to let time pass, you should figure things out for yourself."
When Heard asked Amoruso to define her brand, Amoruso said: "My brand is permission to discover yourself." That sentence punctuated a broader explanation, in which Amoruso detailed her vision for what could become Nasty Gal's equivalent of the Red Bull High Performance program: "My brand," she said, "is one for the girl who has a digital camera and a laptop and an idea and is looking for guidance on what to do next."
Not long ago, that girl was Amoruso herself. Prior to starting her business, she'd never worked in fashion or retail. She opened an eBay store selling vintage clothing she scavenged herself. Sales soared from $223,000 in 2008 to $23 million in 2011, landing Nasty Gal on Inc.'s annual list of fastest-growing private companies.
Amoruso's vision for the brand also involves evolving it from the world of online retail to a brick-and-mortar presence. Here, too, the company is following a playbook which has worked well for several brands that began online, including Warby Parker, Bonobos, and several startups in the online mattress space. Nasty Gal now has two retail stores in the Los Angeles area, both of which opened in the last 13 months. Amoruso may have started out as a girl with a laptop and an idea, but by all appearances, she knows exactly what she wants to do next.