Just 10 years ago, Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso was dumpster diving, shoplifting, hitchhiking and drifting from job to job. It’s safe to say that no one could have guessed Amoruso would become the CEO of a $100 million retail business with more than 350 employees working for her, but in 2006, Amoruso started an eBay store that quickly blossomed into a retail empire.
In addition to Subway sandwich artist, ID checker and CEO, Amoruso can now add “author” to her resume: Her memoir and professional advice book, "#GIRLBOSS," will be available on May 6. Amorouso's book is anything but conventional as she takes readers through an honest account of her troubled and wild past before getting to her success story.
Your book couldn’t be more different from “Lean In.” In fact, you barely talk about male dominance in the workforce. Why is that?
If it’s a man’s world, who cares? It’s kind of like, “Yes, lean in, but you don’t need to talk about it.” The energy you use talking about it, you could use to actually lean in. I come from a position of being a little bit privileged in that I started my business and worked my way to the top – but not in an organization run by men.
I’m not going to deny that’s something that exists for many women and I’m not going to deny that I’ve been looked at as the only girl in the room, but I don’t acknowledge it. As soon as you acknowledge it, it almost takes power away from you. Just rising to the occasion and thinking, “I’m going to be who I am and be the smart girl I am and talk like I know what I’m talking about, because I do,” and gaining respect – that’s leaning in.
You don’t give steps or a plan to readers on how to be successful. Why is that?
I can just share my experience and I want people to learn from that. You can learn from other people’s success and failure. A lot of people are going to tell you how things are in the world and most of them are going to be wrong for you and right for someone else. It’s more important that you play to your strengths and put yourself in places that challenge you. If you fail, then you make the choice on whether or not you’ll try again.
What do you want to accomplish with your book?
The things I want to manifest are not things I’m acutely thinking about. If my book plants something inside people that’s dormant, I hope there’s something, some day that benefits them. I don’t care if I’m recognized for it or if they even recognize that they learned something because they read my book.
Why did you want to write “#GIRLBOSS?”
There had been a fair amount of press telling my story from the day I started Nasty Gal on eBay, but there was a lot missing and I was not comfortable telling the whole story in anyone else’s words. There’s a lot I learned in the years before Nasty Gal and the years after that I wanted to share and put into my own words.
Do you have any tips for young women who feel directionless and don’t know what they want to do yet?
You just have to keep trying things. I knew I wanted to be good at something. I thought I was going to be a photographer. Had I tried to control that too much and said, “Screw this eBay thing,” I don’t know if I would have fulfilled any level of a dream. I don’t know if I would have been a successful photographer or done what I did with Nasty Gal. I was open to seeing where life took me.
What was the best advice you ever got?
I had a friend in high school and this always stuck with me. My friend said, “I change what I can at arm’s reach.” That’s what a book is. That’s what putting clothes on girls that feel really good about themselves after they put it on is. When you live your life and treat people with respect and work hard and play by the rules – which I only learned from trial and error – it can create really great things.
Do you think it was to your advantage that you never had too much direction from professional mentors?
Some advice I take and half of it I throw away. This caused me a lot of problems as a kid, but I’ve never taken what people with more experience than me say at face value, which could be seen as disrespectful, but I see it as a healthy discourse. It’s important to weigh your gut feelings with practical advice you’re being given and decide. There’s a lot to learn from what other people have done, but there’s also a lot to doing things your own way.
What are the best and worst parts of being your own boss?
The best part is that I can’t be fired. The worst part is that I have no peers. As a founder and CEO, I’m in a unique position in that I control the business. There’s a fine line between involving myself and over-involving myself and I have to be careful with that.
Do you regret living the wild life when you were hitchhiking and shoplifting?
That phase was pretty short. I think I learned a lot from it – you learn a lot about people and what not to do by doing stupid stuff like that, and unfortunately I think I was naïve enough to have to learn about the world by putting myself in situations like that. I actually had to get to who I am now by removing every other option.
Amoruso will launch her book at Powerhouse Arena on May 6.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark