LOS ANGELES — “I can’t believe I’m standing here. Is this really my store?” Sophia Amoruso asked the circle of Nasty Gal staffers who were surrounding her two days before her first brick-and-mortar opening today at 8115 Melrose Avenue. “It’s magical.”
After snapping an impromptu group shot with an iPhone, the 30-year-old founder and chief executive officer jumped into one of the four one-way-mirrored dressing rooms with a few staffers to test it out. While only the dimmest outlines of their silhouettes were visible, the view from the inside is that of looking out a clear glass window.
This story first appeared in the November 21, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The fact that the mirrored dressing room is one of the 2,500-square-foot store’s central features proves that Amoruso isn’t trying to reinvent the retail wheel with high-tech innovations one might expect from a native digital company that has reached $130 million in annual sales in just six years. In fact, her store looks like just that — a plate glass facade features sassy mannequins wearing sparkly dresses, bra tops, short skirts, funky heels and cropped faux-fur jackets, and inside, there are clean white racks, tables and shelves laden with a mix of Nasty Gal brand items and vintage designer clothes and accessories. The mirrored dressing rooms dominate the center of the white-beamed, square-shaped store, but that’s because Amoruso wanted to offer a high-touch feature for a customer used to high-tech shopping (sales associates will have iPads for mobile POS, of course).
“There will be a level of service in the store that doesn’t really exist in other places where you can shop for accessibly-priced fashion. At the very bottom of it, that is what we’re doing, and having the fitting rooms central really speaks to that. It’s not like a long hallway of tiny rooms that’s ‘get ’em in, get ’em out.’ It’s a fun experience that forces service to each room. It’s our job taking care of the customer and whatever that entails, whether it’s getting another size or keeping the store clean. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do in this store and I hope that’s how the team works,” she said.
Amoruso is the first to admit she’s got a lot to learn about brick-and-mortar retail. “I’m learning a whole new skill set from this experience; it’s a challenge for sure. Like, there’s no time lapse between the time a customer asks a question and the time you answer it. I’ve always had the luxury of articulating exactly what my response would be via e-mail, but now the response has to be in the moment and still make someone happy and give them what they want.”
And the million, or billion, dollar question is always, ‘What do women, i.e., your customers, want?’ According to Amoruso, it’s “Just being where she wants to be and giving her the opportunity to try things on before she buys them. It’s going to force us to learn so many things. We’re not saying we’re final, we’re done, we’re perfect. We’re always a work in progress, even if we have a few hundred people on our team like today, or when I had five people. I’m excited to get that real-time feedback because we can engineer that back into the business so much faster than data points.”
While more stores in Los Angeles and in other cities are part of the plan, the company is focused on the task at hand. And as far as location, they had a good model in neighbor Fred Segal Melrose across the street.
“Fortunately, Fred Segal’s been here since the Sixties but L.A. is constantly changing. Is it Third Street? La Brea? Our first store is going to be a destination no matter where it is, but I’d rather not pop up in the trendiest newest part of town,” said Amoruso.
Said Nasty Gal president and chief product officer Sheree Waterson, “Since Melrose Avenue’s roots were vintage and irreverent, is there any street better? It’s very iconic in that way and that’s our roots, as well. I think it’s so interesting that we are across from Fred Segal because I think that the people who shop there will shop here, too.”
Indeed, whether it’s a teenager looking for a skirt or top for less than $100 or a thirtysomething splurging on a vintage gold lamé Yves Saint Laurent jacket, it can be found here. About 30 percent of the merchandise is Nasty Gal, 5 to 10 percent vintage at prices $1,000 and up, and the rest are brands that the company also sells online, such as Three Floor, Discount Trash, Cameo, Eugenia Kim and Shakuhachi. Also available beginning Dec. 4 will be its MAC x Nasty Gal lipsticks. Waterson declined to give sales projections, but Amoruso said they are “conservative.” Most of the new merchandise retails for less than $200.
While the store already looks picture-perfect, there is still a corner to be built out that will carry tech accessories, magazines and books, as well as a 1,000-square-foot back building that will eventually become a shoe salon (Shoe Cult and other brands are displayed on the triangular concrete steps at the back of the store).
“This a natural move, but I’m not a purist in any way,” said Amoruso, who started her interview seated on the round ottoman in the dressing room area, but soon grew too distracted and excited by the mirrors and buzz of last-minute preparations that she moved her seat to the back corner of the store. “I don’t think had I been like, ‘I want to be a Melrose boutique owner,’ I would have figured it out, because opening a store or even launching a label without the platform we built would have been so much harder. So everything feels like it happens in time with Nasty Gal in a very serendipitous way. Shopping is just part of what we are doing. What I’m really trying to do is take the community that we’ve built online and give our girls a place to congregate and meet one another and meet us. That’s been relatively impossible and it’s amazing to have a community that feels like we’re all part of something, but that for the most part I’ve never met. And what form that takes is really limitless in terms of how to activate that in the stores beyond shopping.”
Amoruso said she’s not putting the cart before the horse in terms of eyeing an initial public offering or even courting more investors. The company has received $49 million in two rounds of funding from Index Ventures. “We have a lot to prove with our first store. It’s a tough time to be like, ‘We are opening our first store, wanna invest?’ It has to work first.”
She envisions starting another company, “Only if it was complementary. I don’t want to distract from Nasty Gal because there’s a lot of runway ahead of us to figure out. Maybe someday, if it’s part of Nasty Gal, but I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
Surely, she must get offers? “Everything is entertaining and if something seems worth exploring, I’d probably explore it, but only if it preserves what we are building here,” she said. “We need to open more stores. There has to be some amount of repetition so there’s some muscle memory in a business before you let anyone else mess with it. Even if I’m not serious [about selling the company], I want to learn from having a conversation about it, because I’m not the MBA who knows exactly what to do. I kind of learn as I go.”