No, NastyGal isn’t a porn site or a phone sex hotline (we checked). NastyGal is one of the fastest growing e-commerce sites in the country, beating out companies like Etsy and ASOS to become the largest retail startup in terms of volume. Last year, NastyGal sold nearly $100 million of clothing and accessories – profitably. That’s a 10,160% growth over 3 years.

From Humble Beginnings

This e-commerce juggernaut began with a simple eBay seller page, run by fashionista Sophia Amorouso. Sophia, 22 at the time, made a name for herself by scouring thrift stores and flea market bargain bins to find diamond-labels in the rough, often selling the items for up to 100 times what she paid. After a year and a half on eBay, Sophia used her presence in social media to grow her audience and accrue a sales network that included 30K+ friends on MySpace – mostly other vintage sellers, and moved her operation out of her family’s garage and into a San Francisco studio.

When Life Gives You the Boot, Resell It

In June 2008, Sophia was kicked off of eBay (for being too successful). Mere weeks after the shake-up, Sophia relaunched as an original and vintage clothing destination. MySpace was ditched for Facebook as a primary engagement tool, and customers uploaded their “vintage meets runway” looks to compete for $200 gift cards. The site has since grown to over 550K daily visits, with 25% of those users visiting daily, and the top 10% visiting over 100 times a month. Because of this highly engaged user base, NastyGal is able to sell 93% of its inventory at full price.Something that’s almost unheard of in an industry that normally marks down about 30% of its entire inventory.

Sophia has become the darling of the fashion industry and a case-study worth drooling over for every e-commerce based business. In 2012, she raised more than $40 million dollars in venture capital, giving away only a small slice of equity.

So How’d She Do It?

We here at think Sophia’s success stems from a number of things:

  1. The web is still a goldmine for born entrepreneurs. Sophia was buying books on startups at age 9. Her parents hit a rough patch financially when she was 10 and she learned the value of every dollar she earned working at places like her local Subway in her teens. By the time she started selling items on eBay she had worked at more than 10 different fashion retailers. In interviews, she often quotes her father’s advice for her, “Show up. Don’t stop moving. Sweep the floor even when they don’t ask you to.” If you’re a big brand and kids like this don’t keep you up at night, you’re not paying attention.
  2. Empowering and inspiring users where it matters most - at the point of purchase: NastyGal partnered with user generated content aggregator Olapic to create a subsection of the website called “The Click”. The Click pulled in customers’ photos from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook wearing NastyGal clothes – giving shoppers an opportunity to see how a look would manifest on a real person, not just a model. This experiment resulted in a 6% purchase conversion lift and doubled the amount of time spent on the site overall.
  3. Continuous, fresh content across all channels: NastyGal updates across their social media accounts on a daily basis, and has developed a culture of tightly editing and testing content. Harking back to it’s eBay days, product images are carefully tested and optimized across social platforms before determining what will be featured in e-mails and on landing pages of the site.
  4. Peer approval and confirmation of purchase: By promoting the #NastyGal hashtag across Twitter and Instagram, NastyGal is capturing existing user content and leveraging it to promote the brand. By encouraging users to hashtag their looks, it also provides a natural positive feedback loop when someone’s followers and friends like or comment on the content they’ve created.

With our clients, we champion behaviors like making data part of your culture, testing everything, and giving users a reason to share, but even for us it’s rare to see a single company doing all of these things well. We’ve included some links below if you want to dig even deeper on this smart startup, but why not start by simply using the site?

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