Posted on November 13, 2020
Ready to up your packing game?
Every year, thousands of fashion startups begin their business journey on marketplace sites like Ebay. You might think it’s impossible to grow your brand from a single Ebay seller profile to a multimillion dollar brand in six short years … but that’s exactly what Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal achieved!
As recently as 2015, Nasty Gal was a global fashion brand with annual revenues of $100 million … and it all started with a little ebay store and an uncompromising eye for detail.
In this week’s article we’ll show you the lengths that Sophia Amoruso went to to delight her customers and build her brand, and show you how your fashion label can do exactly the same.
Sophia Amoruso is the founder of the Nasty Gal fashion brand. When she was just 22 years old, she set up a small Ebay shop called Nasty Gal Vintage, selling second-hand clothes that she had found at garage sales and second-hand shops.
Sophia ran an Ebay store unlike any other. In an era when most garments for sale were hung loosely on mannequins and photographed in poorly-lit environments (if they had photos at all), Sophia was using models to show off the best finds and went to extreme lengths to deliver the highest standard of customer service.
It’s an approach that paid off; not only did the Nasty Gal business achieve astronomical sales growth in six short years, but Sophia’s rags-to-riches story was turned into a best-selling book and Netflix series.
So if, like Sophia in 2006, you’re an online fashion retailer who’s still handling every job yourself, what can you do to grow your business as rapidly as she did?
One of the ways in which Nasty Gal differentiated itself from its competitors was in the way it presented clothes for sale.
Beautiful Photographs were a key part of Nasty Gal’s sales strategy. Every garment was worn by a model and professionally photographed in a stylish setting. This didn’t always cost anything; in the early days of Nasty Gal, Sophia recruited volunteer models and photographers willing to give their time in exchange for portfolio shots. Sophia arranged the locations, styling and makeup herself too, keeping costs to a bare minimum.
Every product photo has one purpose and that is to sell clothes to an online buyer. Sophia recognised this, and picked her product photos based on how striking an image was when it was shrunk down to thumbnail size. Her logic was that buyers would be scrolling through hundreds of listings online, so her clothes would have to catch the eye at any resolution if she were to reach the widest audience.
Detailed Descriptions were another cornerstone of Nasty Gal’s success. Each vintage garment was described in painstaking detail so that the seller had as much information as possible prior to making their purchase. Sophia listed the fabrics, the measurements (everything from shoulder-to-shoulder and armpit-to-armpit measurements) and even the damaged spots on every item she sold.
There’s a lot that we can all learn from this approach. A few extra minutes spent on the product description is worth your time, and if a photo looks great when it’s full-screen but doesn’t stand out when it’s an inch wide, think twice before choosing it as your main image!
As the orders start to roll in, you need to stay on top of your fulfilment process to avoid bad reviews. Online orders need to be shipped as quickly as possible, so you need a super-organised system for wrapping, labelling and posting your items. Stock control is essential, too. You need to know where everything is, and where everything is going.
In the early days, Sophia handled Nasty Gal’s fulfilment process with just two large rubbermaid bins placed on either side of a desk. One bin had every garment that was about to be packed and shipped, the desk had all of the wrapping kit and labels, and the other bin was for the perfectly-wrapped parcels ready to be shipped out.
The key lesson here is that you don’t need to spend a fortune — you just need to find a system that works for you. Some of our customers print off a list of their daily orders and physically scratch each one off with a pen as they drop each parcel in the post bag. Other customers print out a batch of sticky order labels at the end of each day and just work through each order until all they have left is a pile of backing paper. All that matters is that you understand your own system and that orders never go missing!
Packing orders can be stressful. You’ve got to get the right products into the right envelopes, keep track of who has been sent what, and do it all before the day’s last post. No matter how rushed you feel, you should always take a few moments to ensure that everything you send looks its best.
In the early days, Sophia personally wrapped, packed and posted every single garment she sold. She made sure that every Nasty Gal parcel went out looking perfect. In her autobiography, Sophia talks about how she would inspect each item herself and take a moment to do up every zipper, button and hook. She would then fold each garment and carefully slide it into a clear plastic bag, sealing it with a Nasty Gal sticker before packing it up for shipment. Stickers and labels were never crooked or creased.
“I took a lot of pride in how carefully I affixed those labels. I had to assume that my customer was as particular and as concerned with aesthetics as I was.”
– Sophia Amoruso in #GirlBoss
At some point in your journey as an online retailer, you’re going to be faced with a customer service challenge. A supplier could let you down with sub-par materials, you could miss a shipping deadline or you might have to fulfil a larger order than you can handle. Whatever the reasons behind your problem, remember that customer communication is key.
In her autobiography, Sophia tells the story of a time when she sold a vintage Chanel jacket for a massive $1,000 profit. Before shipping the jacket out to the buyer, Sophia took the jacket to the dry cleaners… and one of the unique jacket buttons went missing in the wash.
Sophia could have just apologised quickly and shipped the jacket as-is, but instead she chose to communicate the problem to the buyer and solve the problem at her own expense. She personally sourced a replacement 1988 button in Chanel New York, then had it professionally sewn back on. It took a week longer for the jacket to arrive with the buyer, but it was the right thing to do and it protected her brand’s reputation.
In 2008, it was time for Nasty Gal to leave Ebay behind and start trading from its own web domain. There was just one problem: Nasty Gal’s customers were all on Ebay, and there was no way to just download her database of Ebay customers and start again on a new platform.
Luckily, Nasty Gal already had a 60,000-strong audience of loyal fans on MySpace. Since 2006, Sophia had religiously posted a social media update every time she had a new vintage item going up for auction, so when the Ebay store closed and Nasty Gal’s first website opened, all she had to do was point her loyal army of MySpace followers to the new web page.
Sophia’s prior investment in social media paid off on her website’s first day of trade. The Nasty Gal website opened on Friday 13th June 2008, and was completely sold out by midnight.
For a fashion startup, there really is no better example than Nasty Gal Vintage!
It’s a true millennial-owned twenty-first century business. Sophia Amoruso used all of the tools that are still available to grassroots fashion brands today (marketplace storefronts and social media) and created a massive business with global reach.
This is a twenty-first century success story, but the fundamentals that underpinned Nasty Gal’s success are timeless. Sophia Amoruso focused on beautiful product presentation, stayed organised and professional in her approach and obsessed over customer service. Even if your fashion startup doesn’t sell online, those are the kinds of values worth aspiring to!
Thanks for reading!