Główna #Girlboss


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“A #GIRLBOSS is in charge of her own life. She gets what she wants because she works for it.”

The first thing Sophia Amoruso sold online wasn’t fashion—it was a stolen book. She spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and dumpster diving. By twenty-two, she had resigned herself to employment, but was still broke, directionless, and working a mediocre day job she’d taken for the health insurance.

It was there that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay. Eight years later, she is the founder, CEO, and creative director of Nasty Gal, a $100 million plus online fashion retailer with more than 350 employees. Sophia’s never been a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she’s written #GIRLBOSS for outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is winding as all hell and lined with naysayers.

GIRLBOSS includes Sophia’s story, yet is infinitely bigger than Sophia. It’s deeply personal yet universal. Filled with brazen wake-up calls (“You are not a special snowflake”), cunning and frank observations (“Failure is your invention”), and behind-the-scenes stories from Nasty Gal’s meteoric rise, #GIRLBOSS covers a lot of ground. It proves that being successful isn’t about how popular you were in high school or where you went to college (if you went to college). Rather, success is about trusting your instincts and following your gut, knowing which rules to follow and which to break.

A #GIRLBOSS takes her life seriously without taking herself too seriously. She takes chances and takes responsibility on her own terms. . She knows when to throw punches and when to roll with them. When to button up and when to let her freak flag fly. 

As Sophia writes, “I have three pieces of advice I want you to remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let The Man get to you. OK? Cool.  Then let’s do this.”




“The Cinderella of tech.”
--New York Times

“Fashion’s new phenom.”

“Starkly brilliant.”
--Huffington Post

“[Sophia Amoruso] remains true to her vision to inspire and be inspired by cool girls.”
--Elle’s “One to Watch: 11 Women Who Just Might Change the World”

“Nasty Gal clothing company—as red hot as its founder’s lipstick...even though owner Sophia Amoruso never set a spike-heeled boot in business school…[It’s growth] would be hugely impressive for any 6-year-old start-up. But Amoruso isn’t your typical entrepreneur…Amoruso is, employees say, the ultimate nasty gal…In a predominantly male tech industry, Amoruso is gaining notice for being a young female CEO who is doing things her way.”
--The LA Times

“There are some CEOs that can make running a company look ridiculously easy. Then there are some who can do it with, well, a certain je ne sais quoi. Sexiness is a subjective measure and its not just about looks. It’s also about success, power, ambition, charisma, altruism, fashion sense, and style.”
--Business Insider on Naming Sophia Amoruso “The Sexiest CEO Alive”

“Sophia Amoruso is building a fashion empire.”
--New York’s The Cut

“It is her fundamental vision and commitment to an authentic sense of style that has resonated so strongly.”
--elitedaily.com on “Why Sophia Amoruso is the Sexiest and Smartest CEO.”

“The Female Tech Superstar”

“[Sophia Amoruso] began as a humble Ebay Store and turned her brand into one of the most coveted eCommerce destinations on the planet…Sophia’s brand sticks up its middle finger at the corporate world and NastyGal’s loyal followers can’t get enough of it.”

“She doesn’t just offer [millenials] clothes—she offers them the whole ‘rebel’ lifestyle.”
--Sarah Owen, WGSN

“Sophia Amoruso is pretty awesome.”

“[Sophia Amoruso] is every bit as uncommon as [Nasty Gal’s] track record. Never mind the Valley’s history of funding misfits like stinky fruitarian Steve Jobs, junk food smacking Marc Andreesen, or socially awkward Mark Zuckerberg. Those misfits all fit in a similar box. Amoruso did not. . . .[Nasty Gal] is that gap between total dork and together, rich cheerleader where the bulk of girls who want to think for themselves but also be cool and accepted live.”

About the Author

Sophia Amoruso turned her hobby selling vintage clothing on eBay into Nasty Gal, one of the fastest growing companies in America. Her rise has been covered by major media like The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., and The Wall Street Journal, and she has a devoted following on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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			Published by the Penguin Group

			Penguin Group (USA) LLC

			375 Hudson Street

			New York, New York 10014

			USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China


			A Penguin Random House Company

			First published by Portfolio / Penguin and G. P. Putnam’s Sons, members of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014

			Copyright © 2014 by Sophia Amoruso

			Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

			Photographs courtesy of the author

			ISBN 978-0-698-15490-2


To our customers.

For without them I would never have become a #GIRLBOSS.


			Title Page



			Introduction: The Chronology of a #GIRLBOSS


			So You Want to Be a #GIRLBOSS?


			How I Became a #GIRLBOSS


			Shitty Jobs Saved My Life


			Shoplifting (and Hitchhiking) Saved My Life


			Money Looks Better in the Bank Than on Your Feet


			Hocus-pocus: The Power of Magical Thinking


			I Am the Antifashion


			On Hiring, Staying Employed, and Firing


			Taking Care of (Your) Business


			Creativity in Everything


			The Chances


			The Chronology of a #GIRLBOSS

			I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.

			—Wreck-It Ralph

		 			 			1984: I’m born in San Diego on Good Friday, which was also 4/20. Before you think this is some kind of omen, let me assure you that the only thing I smoke is my competition.

			1989: I smear poop on the wall in kindergarten; perhaps my ; first true artistic expression.

			1993: My fourth-grade teacher thinks something could be wrong with me. The list includes ADD and Tourette’s syndrome.

			1994: My dad takes me to Wal-Mart, where I ask a sales associate if they have “the Ren and Stimpy dolls that flatulate.” This is evidence that I possess both a large vocabulary and a slightly twisted sense of humor.

			1997: I fall in love with my first article of vintage clothing: a persimmon-red pair of disco pants. I secretly change into them in the bathroom of the roller rink.

			1999: I land my first job, at a Subway. I get OCD on the BLT.

			2000: I hate high school, and am sent to a psychiatrist who diagnoses me with depression and ADD. I try the white pills. I try the blue pills. I decide that if this is what it’s going to take to like high school, forget it. I throw the pills away and decide to homeschool.

			2001: My parents get divorced. I’m okay with it and take the opportunity to move out and be on my own. I choose an apartment in downtown Sacramento with a bunch of dude musicians. My room is a closet under the stairs, and my rent is $60 a month.

			2002: I hitchhike up and down the West Coast, finally landing in the Pacific Northwest. I pursue a life of dumpster diving (do not knock a free bagel until you’ve tried one) and petty thievery.

			2002: I sell my first thing online. It’s a stolen book.

			2003: I am detained for shoplifting. I quit cold turkey.

			2005: I leave my boyfriend in Portland and move to San Francisco, where I am fired from a high-end shoe store.

			2006: I get a hernia, which means I need to get a job to get health insurance. I find one checking IDs in the lobby of an art school. I have a lot of time to kill, so I dick around on the Internet and open up an eBay shop called Nasty Gal Vintage.

			2014: I am the CEO of a $100-million-plus business with a fifty-thousand-square-foot office in Los Angeles, a distribution and fulfillment center in Kentucky, and three hundred and fifty employees.

			(Insert the sound of a record screeching to a halt here.)

			I’m leaving out some details here, obviously, but if I told you everything in the introduction, there’d be no need to read the rest of this book, and I want you to read the rest of this book. But it’s true: In about eight years, I went from a broke, anarchist “freegan” dead set on smashing the system to a millionaire businesswoman who today is as at home in the boardroom as she is in the dressing room. I never intended to be a role model, but there are parts of my story, and the lessons I’ve learned from it, that I want to share.

			In the same way that for the past seven years people have projected themselves into the looks I’ve sold through Nasty Gal, I want you to be able to use #GIRLBOSS to project yourself into an awesome life where you can do whatever you want. This book will teach you how to learn from your own mistakes and from other people’s (like mine). It will teach you when to quit and when to ask for more. It will teach you to ask questions and take nothing at face value, to know when to follow the rules and when to rewrite them. It will help you to identify your weaknesses and play to your strengths. It will show you that there’s a certain amount of irony to life. For example, I started an online business so I could work from home . . . alone. Now I speak to more people in one workday than I used to in an entire month. But I’m not complaining.

			This book will not teach you how to get rich quick, break into the fashion industry, or start a business. It is neither a feminist manifesto nor a memoir. I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on what I’ve already done because there is still so much to do. This book won’t teach you how to get dressed in the morning. That book is coming—but only after you tell all of your friends to buy this one.

			While you’re reading this, I have three pieces of advice that I want you to remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t ever let the Man get to you. Okay? Cool. Then let’s do this.

			#GIRLBOSS for life.


			So You Want to Be a #GIRLBOSS?

			Life is short. Don’t be lazy.


So you want to be a #GIRLBOSS? I’m going to start by telling you two things. First: That’s great! You’ve already taken the first step toward an awesome life by simply wanting one. Second: That’s the only step that’s going to be easy. See, here’s the thing about being a #GIRLBOSS—it’s not easy. It takes a lot of hard work to get there, and then once you arrive, it takes even more hard work to stay there. But then, who’s scared of hard work? I sure as hell am not, and I’m sure you aren’t either. Or, if you are, I’m sure this book will change your mind so that by the end of the last chapter you’ll be practically screaming, “Where is some work!?! I want some work and I want to do it now!”

			A #GIRLBOSS is someone who’s in charge of her own life. She gets what she wants because she works for it. As a #GIRLBOSS, you take control and accept responsibility. You’re a fighter—you know when to throw punches and when to roll with them. Sometimes you break the rules, sometimes you follow them, but always on your own terms. You know where you’re going, but can’t do it without having some fun along the way. You value honesty over perfection. You ask questions. You take your life seriously, but you don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re going to take over the world, and change it in the process. You’re a badass.

Why Should You Listen to Me?

			Women make natural anarchists and revolutionaries.

			—Kim Gordon

			If there were rules to being a #GIRLBOSS—which there are not—one of them would be to question everything—including me. We’re definitely starting off on the right foot here.

			I am the founder, CEO, and creative director of Nasty Gal. I built this business on my own in just seven short years, and all before the age of thirty. I didn’t come from money or prestigious schools, and I didn’t have any adults telling me what to do along the way. I figured it out on my own. Nasty Gal has gotten a lot of press, but it’s often spun like a fairy tale. Savvy ingénue with a rags-to-riches story? Check. Prince Charming? If we’re talking about my investor, Danny Rimer of Index Ventures, then check. Lots of shoes? Check. And I don’t mind—press is fine—but I’m wary of reinforcing the perception that all of this happened overnight, and that it happened to me. Don’t get me wrong: I will be the first to admit that I have been fortunate in so many ways, but I must stress that none of this was an accident. It took years of living with dirty fingernails from digging through vintage, a few painful burns from steaming clothes, and many an aged Kleenex hiding in a coat pocket to get here.

			Not too long ago, someone told me that I had an obligation to take Nasty Gal as far as I possibly could because I’m a role model for girls who want to do cool stuff with their own lives. I’m still not sure how to feel about that, because for most of my life I didn’t even believe in the concept of role models. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. Anyway, I’m way too ADD to stay up there: I’d rather be making messes, and making history while I’m at it. I don’t want you to look up, #GIRLBOSS, because all that looking up can keep you down. The energy you’ll expend focusing on someone else’s life is better spent working on your own. Just be your own idol.

			I’m telling my story to remind you that the straight and narrow is not the only path to success. As you’ll see in the rest of this book, I didn’t earn many accolades growing up. I’ve been a dropout, a nomad, a thief, a shitty student, and a lazy employee. I was always in trouble as a kid. From punching my best friend in the stomach when she dropped my Play-Doh (I was four) to getting ratted out for lighting hairspray on fire at a family gathering (guilty), I was regularly the bad example. As a teen, I was angst on wheels, and as an adult, I’m essentially a young, half-Greek Larry David in heels—incapable of hiding discomfort, dissatisfaction, or doubt, inescapably myself and often honest to a fault.

			I tried the obvious route of hourly jobs and community college, and it just never worked for me. I’d been told for so long that the path to success was paved with a series of boxes you checked off, starting with getting a degree and getting a job, and as I kept trying and failing at these, it sometimes seemed that I was destined for a life in the loser lane. But I always suspected that I was destined for, and that I was capable of, something bigger. That something turned out to be Nasty Gal, but you know what? I didn’t find Nasty Gal. I created it.

			Abandon anything about your life and habits that might be holding you back. Learn to create your own opportunities. Know that there is no finish line; fortune favors action. Race balls-out toward the extraordinary life that you’ve always dreamed of, or still haven’t had time to dream up. And prepare to have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.

			This book is titled #GIRLBOSS.

			Does that mean it’s a feminist manifesto?

			Oh God. I guess we have to talk about this.

			#GIRLBOSS is a feminist book, and Nasty Gal is a feminist company in the sense that I encourage you, as a girl, to be who you want and do what you want. But I’m not here calling us “womyn” and blaming men for any of my struggles along the way.

			I have never once in my life thought that being a girl was something that I had to overcome. My mom grew up doing the cooking and cleaning while her brothers got to enjoy their childhoods. In my mom’s experience, being a girl was most definitely a disadvantage. Perhaps because both of my parents worked full-time, or because I had no siblings, I never witnessed this kind of favoritism. I know generations of women fought for the rights that I take for granted, and in other parts of the world a book like this would never see the light of day. I believe the best way to honor the past and future of women’s rights is by getting shit done. Instead of sitting around and talking about how much I care, I’m going to kick ass and prove it.

			My first reaction to almost everything in life has been “no.” For me to fully appreciate things I must first reject them. Call it stubborn, it’s the only way I can make something mine—to invite it into my world rather than have it fall into my lap. At seventeen, I chose hairy legs over high heels and had a hygiene regimen that could best be described as “crust punk.” I wore men’s clothes that I bought from Wal-Mart. On the rare occasion a guy opened a door for me, I’d refuse, taking insult, like “I can open my own doors, thank you very much!” And let’s be honest, that’s not really being a feminist, that’s just being rude.

			I now know that letting someone open a door for me doesn’t make me any less independent. And when I put on makeup, I’m not doing it to pander to antiquated patriarchal ideals of feminine beauty. I’m doing it because it makes me feel good. That’s the spirit of Nasty Gal: We want you to dress for yourself, and know that it’s not shallow to put effort into how you look. I’m telling you that you don’t have to choose between smart and sexy. You can have both. You are both.

			Is 2014 a new era of feminism where we don’t have to talk about it? I don’t know, but I want to pretend that it is. I’m not going to lie—it’s insulting to be praised for being a woman with no college degree. But then, I’m aware that this is also to my advantage: I can show up to a meeting and blow people away just by being my street-educated self. I, along with countless other #GIRLBOSSes who are profiled in this book, girls who are reading this book, and the girls who are yet to become a #GIRLBOSS will do it not by whining—but by fighting. You don’t get taken seriously by asking someone to take you seriously. You’ve got to show up and own it. If this is a man’s world, who cares? I’m still really glad to be a girl in it.

The Red String Theory

			I entered adulthood believing that capitalism was a scam, but I’ve instead found that it’s a kind of alchemy. You combine hard work, creativity, and self-determination, and things start to happen. And once you start to understand that alchemy, or even just recognize it, you can begin to see the world in a different way.

			However, I think I always saw the world in a different way. My mom says that when I was five, I got a red string and ran across the playground with it trailing after me. All of the other kids asked what it was, and I told them that it was a kite. Soon everyone had red strings, and we all ran together, our kites high in the sky.

			If I, and this book, have anything to prove, it’s that when you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you, too.

		 			 				“With my touch, a plus-size anorak became Comme Des Garçons and ski pants Balenciaga.”


			How I Became a #GIRLBOSS

			The Early Days: Hernias, Haggling, and the Sad Bunny

			So you’ve decided to step up to the plate and start an eBay business. You should first decide how much time you have to devote. I suggest you don’t quit your day job (yet).

			—Starting an eBay Business For Dummies

If I’m being totally honest here—and that’s what I’m being here, totally honest—Nasty Gal started because I had a hernia. I was living in San Francisco, jobless, when I suddenly discovered that I had a hernia in my groin. I wore a lot of supertight pants at the time, and the hernia was visible even when I had clothes on, with a little bump sticking out like “boop.” One time I even shaved off all my pubic hair, except for the hair that covered the bump. Clearly, I did not give a fuck. But all joking aside, I knew that the hernia was a medical condition that required treatment, and that to get treatment I would need health insurance. To get health insurance, I would need a job. A real one.

				 					Where it all began: An art school lobby, a UFO haircut, and an Internet connection.

			 			I found one checking IDs in the lobby of an art school and started to put in the ninety days that were required as a waiting period before the job’s benefits kicked in. As you can probably imagine, checking IDs wasn’t the most stimulating job, so I had a lot of time to fuck around on the Internet. MySpace ruled in those days (I went by the username WIGWAM). At some point I started to notice that I was getting a lot of friend requests from eBay sellers aiming to promote their vintage stores to young girls like me.

			After ninety days, I got health insurance, got my hernia fixed, and got the hell out of there. During my recovery period, I moved out of my place, and to both my and my mother’s dismay, spent a month living at home. I had no income and no plan. But boy, did I have time. I remembered the friend requests I had accumulated from vintage sellers and thought, Hell, I can do that! I had the photography experience. I had cute friends to model. I wore exclusively vintage and knew the ropes. And I was an expert scavenger.

			The first thing I did was buy a book: Starting an eBay Business For Dummies, which taught me how to set up my store. The first order of business was to choose a name. Many of the vintage shops already on eBay were so bohemian it hurt, with names like Lady in the Tall Grass Vintage or Spirit Moon Raven Sister Vintage. So the contrarian in me grabbed the keyboard and named my shop-to-be Nasty Gal Vintage, inspired by my favorite album by legendary funk singer and wild woman Betty Davis.

			She’s probably most well known because she was Miles Davis’s ex-wife, but it was her music (she had perhaps the best rhythm section around), her unapologetically sexy attitude, and her outspoken tongue that made me a fan. Performing in lingerie and fishnet stockings, her signature move being a high kick in the air with feet encased in platform shoes, she was the ultimate #GIRLBOSS. She had songs called “Your Mama Wants You Back,” “Don’t Call Her No Tramp,” and “They Say I’m Different.” She wrote her own music and lyrics and produced her own songs, which was almost unheard of for a female musician in the ’70s. As mind-blowing as Betty Davis was, she was just too far ahead of her time to ever meet with mainstream success. I thought I was just picking a name for an eBay store, but it turned out that I was actually infusing the entire brand with not only my spirit, but the spirit of this incredible woman.

			By the time I opened up the shop, vintage had long been a part of my life. I’ve always had a penchant for old things and the stories they tell. My grandfather ran a motel in West Sacramento, and my dad was one of seven kids who grew up maintaining the place. When I was a little kid, we went back to visit, and there was a junk room full of magic—an old Ouija board, ’70s T-shirts with cap sleeves and crazy iron-on graphics, my aunt’s old coin collection. It was just stuff that kids growing up in the ’60s and ’70s left behind, but I found it fascinating.

			As a teenager, I preferred thrifted clothing to new, a preference that totally perplexed my mother. She endured countless trips to the local mall in a futile attempt to dress me, where I’d hold up a $50 top and inform her that it just “wasn’t worth it.” Were there a Nasty Gal at the time, I think I’d have found plenty of stuff for my mom to spend her money on, but the mall was a boring place. The smattering of stores screaming “normal” from their windows just did not cut it for me, and the thought of paying to look like everyone else seemed utterly ridiculous. Finally, we reached a compromise. Although she deemed thrift stores “smelly,” she agreed to wait outside while I shopped. However, this didn’t mean she always approved of my choices. I distinctly remember being humiliated in front of a friend when she demanded that I go back upstairs to change my shirt—not because she thought it was revealing or inappropriate in any way, but because she thought that my brown paisley polyester blouse was just plain ugly.

				 					Creep in polyester on creep in polyester.

			By the time I was in my twenties, vintage was almost all I wore. In San Francisco my friends and I picked a decade and stuck with it. We listened to old music, drove old cars, and wore old clothes. My decade was the ’70s. I had long rock ’n’ roll hair parted in the middle, with a uniform of my new eBay high-waisted polyester pants, platform shoes, and vintage halters.

			With the new store I took thrifting to a whole new level. On Craigslist I found a theater company that was going out of business and negotiated a great deal for a carload of vintage. I threw some of my own pieces into that lot of wool capes and Gunne Sax dresses, and suddenly I had merchandise. I went to Target and bought some Rubbermaid containers, clothespins, a steamer, and a clothing rack, and got to work on my first round of auctions. I enlisted my mom, forming a primitive assembly line: I’d call out a garment’s measurements, and my mom would write it down on a little scrap of paper and pin it onto the garment.

			My first model was Emily, a gorgeous girl and my friend’s girlfriend at the time. Covered in tattoos, with long hair and adorable bangs, she was an unusual choice—but she was a great one. I shot maybe ten of the items I’d accumulated, then plunked the description, measurements, and other information into eBay and waited out my ten-day auctions, answering the oh-so-exciting questions from my very first customers along the way. Each week I grew faster, smarter, and more aware of what women wanted. And each week my auctions did better and better. If it sold, cool—I’d instantly go find more things like it. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t touch anything like it with a ten-foot pole ever again. Shocking, but cute girls apparently do not want to wear “drug rugs,” the beach-bum sweatshirts that some prefer to call baja hoodies. It was addicting; for an adrenaline freak like me, there was nothing like the instant gratification of watching my auctions go live.

			I scoured Craigslist for estate sales, and then made a map, starting with whichever one sounded like the people who died were the oldest. I would show up at 6:00 A.M. and stand in line with people who were all at least twenty years my senior. When the doors opened, everyone else started putzing around for doilies, while I bolted straight for the closet to unearth vintage coats, mod minidresses, Halston-era disco gowns, and many a Golden Girls tracksuit. I’d hoard, haggle, pay, and leave. Also a regular at the local thrift stores, I waited for the employees to wheel shopping carts of freshly priced merchandise out from the back, and when they took an armload to hang up on the racks . . . pounce! I’d run over and check out what mysteries awaited. Once, I found two Chanel jackets in the same shopping cart. Flip, flip, flip—Chanel jacket—flip, flip, flip—another one! I paid $8 for each of those Chanel jackets. I listed each of them at a $9.99 starting bid and sold them for over $1,500. I didn’t know what a “gross margin” was, but I knew I was on to something.

			In retrospect I was probably the worst customer at the thrift store because not only was I sneaky, but I also haggled. “This sweater has a hole in it,” I’d say after marching up to the counter. “Can I get ten percent off?” Even if it was only a matter of fifty cents, it was worth it to me. Every cent counted.

			At age twenty-two, I returned to the suburbs, a place I had run screaming from just four years earlier. Space was at a premium in San Francisco, so I set up shop in Pleasant Hill, California, an hour away from my friends. I stayed in a pool house with no kitchen—I paid $500 a month and filled the place to the brim with vintage. I worked from my bed, which was covered with clothes and surrounded by packing materials. There was shit on top of shit: boxes balanced on top of a toaster oven on top of a mini-fridge like a game of household-object Jenga.

			Every day, my topknot and I would drive to Starbucks and order a Venti Soy No Water No Foam Chai. Depending on the weather, it was either iced or hot, but there was about a five-year period where I drank at least one of these every single day. For food, I’d throw on a musty sweater with a $4.99 tag stapled to the front of it, forget that that was a weird thing to do, and go to Burger Road, my favorite place in town. I never thought much about the fact that I was spending $100 a month on Starbucks, or that I was missing out on anything by being so far removed from my life in the city. I was addicted to my business, and to watching it grow every day.

			When I wasn’t out sourcing new merchandise, I was at home, adding friends on MySpace. My outfit of choice was born out of my newfound lifestyle, devoid of any necessity to shower, get dressed, or look good. The Sad Bunny, as Gary, my boyfriend at the time called it, was a big, fluffy “mom” bathrobe that hung down to the floor. I sometimes topped it off with a pink towel on my head if I’d gotten the itch to shower that day—so if you’re one of the sixty thousand girls I added as a MySpace friend back then, I’m sorry. Nasty Gal Vintage was run by a workaholic mutant dressed like the Easter Bunny.

			I had friend-adding software, which was totally against MySpace’s policy. I would look up, say, an it girl’s friends and add only girls between certain ages in certain cities. Every ten new friends, I had to enter the CAPTCHA code to prove I was a real person and not a spamming computer. I was actually a little guilty of being both. When I’d exhausted one magazine, musician, brand, or it girl, I’d go on to another. The Sad Bunny and I were in the zone, entering CAPTCHA codes and watching our friend count rise as girls accepted. Soon I had tens of thousands of friends on MySpace, which I used to drive people to the eBay store. I did a MySpace bulletin and blog post for every single auction that went up on Nasty Gal Vintage. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was doing here included two keys to running a successful business: knowing your customer and knowing how to get free marketing.

			I also responded to every single comment that anyone left on my page. It just seemed like the polite thing to do. Many companies were spending millions of dollars trying to nail social media, but I just went with my instincts and treated my customers like they were my friends. Even with no manager watching to give me a gold star, it was important to do my best. Who cares if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it? The tree still falls. If you believe that what you’re doing will have positive results, it will—even if it’s not immediately obvious. When you hold yourself to the same standard in your work that you do as a friend, girlfriend, student, or otherwise, it pays off.

			Every week, one full day was spent shooting in the driveway, with the garage’s blue door as my backdrop. The night before was spent selecting an interesting mix of vintage, ensuring that no two similar items were listed at the same time. This way, my items weren’t competing against one another, and I was able to maximize the potential of each. The models were cast via MySpace, and I paid them with a post-shoot trip to Burger Road. As I was not only the stylist, but the photographer as well, I developed a special talent for buttoning garments with one hand while holding my camera in the other.

				 					When paying models with hamburgers didn’t work, I’d get in front of the camera myself.

			I styled the models like real girls who had stepped right into a fashion editorial shoot. With my touch, a plus-size anorak became Comme des Garçons, and ski pants became Balenciaga. Silhouette was always the most important element in my photos. It was critical on eBay, because that was what stood out when potential customers were zooming through thumbnails, giving less than a microsecond’s thought to each item. But the more attention I paid to fashion photography, the more I realized that silhouette is what makes anything successful. If the silhouette is flattering, it doesn’t matter if the person wearing it doesn’t have runway model proportions.

			I remember perusing a vintage store in San Francisco when the girl working there confessed to me that to get outfit inspiration before going out on Fridays, she visited Nasty Gal Vintage. I started to realize that, though I’d never intended to do so, I was providing my customers with a styling service. Because I was styling every piece of clothing I was selling head to toe, from the hair down to the shoes, I was showing girls how to style themselves. And though you’ll rarely hear me advocate giving anything away for free, this realization was one of the most profound and welcome ones I’ve had with the business. I always knew that Nasty Gal Vintage was about more than just selling stuff, but this proved it: What we were really doing was helping girls to look and feel awesome before they left the house.

			The first time I wanted to play stylist, ceding control to another photographer, I made a friend for life in the process. When I came across Paul Trapani’s website, he was already a successful freelance photographer shooting editorials for magazines. I figured it was a long shot, but his number was listed on his website, so I called him up. I was shocked when he answered and had actually heard of Nasty Gal Vintage—at this point, I was just a girl in a room with a few dozen crazed customers, hardly anything I’d expect someone like Paul to have heard of. What was more, he was willing to work for trade, using the shots for his portfolio if I booked the models, found the location, and styled everything to perfection.

			Though I had a devoted eBay following and my auctions were starting to close at higher and higher prices, Nasty Gal Vintage was still a pretty small-beans operation. However, if the offer of a free hamburger wasn’t enough to sway a potential model, the promise of a fun afternoon (and some shots of her looking gorgeous) usually was. I recruited Lisa, a beautiful five-foot-five brunette with doe eyes and pouty lips, to model, and we headed up to Port Costa. Port Costa is a remote little town in the East Bay that if one didn’t know better, could seem like it was solely occupied by Hell’s Angels. There’s a bar called the Warehouse with four hundred beers and a stuffed polar bear, a motel, and that’s about it. The motel was an old converted brothel, each room named after a working girl, like the Bertha Room or the Edna Room, and this was where we shot. The backdrop was a mix of awesome antique floral wallpaper and dumpy sofas from the ’80s, and the light was hard, on-camera flash softened by the hazy sun filtering in through the window. I even made a cameo as a model in a couple of the shots, and we had a total blast.

			Many people assume that working from home is like a vacation, where you get to do what you want when you want. This was not the case for me. The demands of eBay put me on the strictest schedule I’d ever endured. Because my auctions were timed, there were very real consequences for missing deadlines. The prime time for auctions to go live was Sunday evening. If mine went up late, that meant my customers, who were likely waiting to pounce on my latest batch of vintage gems, might end up disappointed, instead giving another seller their business. If I took too long to respond to a customer inquiry, she might get impatient, choosing to bid on something else. Shipping orders out late might result in negative feedback, and if I didn’t steam and prep all the clothes the night before a shoot, there wouldn’t be time to get through everything in one day.

				 					A photo Paul took of Lisa and me at our first Nasty Gal shoot in Port Costa in 2007.

			 			After everything was shot, I became a machine. I spent an entire day editing photos. An amateur Photoshop user, I blurred out zits and cropped photos as fast as possible. I devised systems to increase my efficiency whenever and wherever. I uploaded all my photos to an FTP and used a template for my listings. My fingers were a carpal-tunnel whirlwind, typing out primitive HTML in equal form to a twelve-year-old hacker. When I wrote product descriptions, I exalted the details. I included styling tips in the copy, in case someone was considering bidding on a Betty White–type windbreaker but wasn’t quite sure how to pull it off like MIA could. I included all of the details: shoulder-to-shoulder measurements, armpit to armpit, waist, hips, length. . . . I noted every flaw, and was always totally honest about the condition of everything.

			Auction titles on eBay are more of a science than an art. Every auction title started with “VTG,” for vintage, and then the rest was a word-salad mix of search terms and actual descriptions. “Babydoll” and “Peter Pan” were really big in 2007, with “hippie” and “boho” making an appearance now and again, then this eventually evolved into “architectural” and “avant-garde.” To be honest, I’m glad I’ve forgotten most of these words and the taxonomy I used to arrange them. In those days I ate, slept, drank, and dreamt search terms. I’d wake up, the sheets and blankets a sweaty, tangled mess around me, practically shouting “’80s Sequined Cocktail Dress!” into the dark.

			I loved shipping stuff. I got as OCD on the USPS as I did on the Subway BLT. I was a one-girl assembly line. I had a Rubbermaid bin to my right, a Rubbermaid bin to my left, and all of my shipping paraphernalia on my desk.

			The bin to my right had all of the vintage items that had just sold and needed to be shipped out. I’d grab an item and inspect it to make sure it was in good shape. I’d zip zippers, button buttons, and hook hooks, then fold it and slide it into a clear plastic bag that I sealed with a sticker. I’d print out a receipt and a Photoshop-hacked note reading “Thanks for shopping at Nasty Gal Vintage! We hope you love your new stuff as much as we do!”—even though “we” was just me. Then I’d put it in a box and slap a shipping label on. Only I didn’t slap anything—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. Anyway, the last thing I wanted was for her to think it was just one girl hacking away in a room by herself. . . .

			By the age of twenty-three, life felt surreal. I remember a typical buying trip to LA, drinking canned beer in a friend’s backyard. At that moment, I was watching my auctions close, totaling $2,500. I was making more in a week than I’d ever had in a month at my hourly jobs. While my mother was writing me long e-mails imploring me to return to community college, all I had to do was look at my burgeoning bank balance to think that maybe this time she had it wrong.

			Sometimes there was so much demand for what I was selling that it actually became a pain in the ass. I sold a gauzy, ivory-colored drop-waist dress covered with silver and white beads, which looked like something an Olsen twin would have worn on the red carpet. For months after it sold, I received a barrage of sob stories from brides-to-be, begging and pleading with me to find them another dress identical to it. Sometimes they seemed convinced that I was holding out on them, but little did they know that I was no vintage archivist, but just a girl patiently going through every rack at the thrift store.

			I took every item I sold seriously, obsessing to ensure my customers had a great experience. I took one of the Chanel jackets to the dry cleaner’s while it was up for auction, and they managed to lose one of the rare-ass buttons. That jacket was $1,000 in my pocket, so you better believe I looked in, around, and under every one of their machines to find it. No dice. I called Chanel in Beverly Hills, and the person who picked up told me to send a button to New York, where Chanel would match it from the company’s vintage archive. To do that, I had to cut another button off the jacket. Terrifying! But I did, and sent it off, where Chanel dated it 1988, matched the button, and sent them back. I had a professional sew them back on, and even though the girl who had bought it had to wait an extra week for her purchase, she was beyond stoked when she got it. I breathed a sigh of relief, and probably celebrated with a Starbucks chai.

You Can’t Sit with Us: The eBay Clique

			I completely dropped out of everything for two years. From the time I woke up until the time I went to sleep, eBay was my entire world. For every category on eBay, there is a seller forum. I wouldn’t necessarily label everyone who sells goods on eBay as an entrepreneur. (Some of the women selling vintage on eBay have been peddling their 1940s aprons for a little too long.) When I came on the scene and started bidding wars over polyester dresses, these purists did nothing but complain. They were disgusted that I called pieces from the 1980s “vintage,” arguing that nothing postdating the 1960s qualified. They also made endless fun of my models: “She’s doing the bulimia pose again!” was a favorite about any photo where the model was slightly bent over, with hands on her waist in that iconic high-fashion pose.

			Dealing vintage is like dealing drugs—you never reveal your source. It’s natural that sellers are ultracompetitive. Hell, I thrive on competition! But eBay taught me that some people prefer to compete in ways I’d never imagined. While I was busy shooting, editing, and uploading my auctions, sneaky competitors trolled my listings to look for things to report. For example, it was against eBay policy to link to an outside website, social media or otherwise, from your listings. However, it was common practice among sellers to link to their MySpace pages—almost everyone did. But still, it sucked when you got caught. It just took one sneaky seller with too much time on her hands to report all of my auctions, and bam, all of my hard work for the entire week simply vanished. I had to redo everything manually, killing an entire day of an already packed week.

			I became Internet “friends” with some other sellers, but on the whole, it was a pretty catty environment. Cutting my teeth on eBay was actually a pretty great way to toughen me up for the cutthroat world of business. Nasty Gal Vintage showed up, guns blazing, out of nowhere, and in no time it was one of the most successful stores in its category. What made me successful wasn’t necessarily what I sold, but how I sold it. The photography and styling wasn’t even that professional—it was usually a one-girl team of me, in a driveway—but it was still leagues ahead of my competition. Instead of spending my time trolling the forums and obsessing about what other sellers were doing, I focused on making my store as unique as possible. My customers responded—they were willing to pay more at Nasty Gal Vintage than they were at other stores. This, of course, did not go over well. It upset a lot of the other sellers that my stuff was going for so much, so the forums collectively decided that the only explanation for my high sales was that I was shill bidding, which is when someone creates a fake account to bid on their own auctions and force up the prices. I took it all in stride. Nasty Gal Vintage was growing by the day and I was busting ass to keep up, so there was no way I was going to waste precious hours engaging in Internet catfights. It seemed like a pointless waste of time, but it soon got too annoying to ignore.

Whoa Is Me: The Purple Flapper Dress Saga

			Toward the end of my time on eBay in early 2008, I bought a flapper dress that had probably been a costume at one point. It was purple polyester and I styled it like a cute going-out dress. It sold for $400, and the girl who bought it was actually another eBay vintage seller, who wore it to her bachelorette party in Las Vegas.

			But the eBay forums lit up. The forum trolls claimed that she and I were in cahoots, bidding on each other’s stuff to drive up the prices, and that my dress wasn’t even vintage. I had never claimed that this was a dress from the flapper era, and if the girl who bought it wasn’t happy with it, I’d gladly have taken it back—but she loved the dress and felt she got what she paid for.

			When noted fashion blogger Susie Bubble wrote about Nasty Gal Vintage in 2008, the comments section turned into a total catfight mostly related to what one commenter called “the purple flapper dress saga.” Some people were defending me; others were leaving comments claiming that I had “risen to the top of the eBay heap based on FALSEHOODS and LIES.” Finally, it frustrated Susie so much that she intervened. “I can’t know everything and frankly . . . sometimes I just don’t want to . . . ,” she wrote. I stayed out of it, keeping my head down and doing my best as I’ve always done.

			At this time, I was already planning to leave eBay because the business was growing so quickly and I was ready for the next step. With Nasty Gal Vintage, I had finally found something that I was good at and kept me engaged. I was beginning to see that it had potential far beyond anything that I had ever imagined, and to see that potential I’d have to go out on my own. However, this didn’t make all the shit talking any easier to take. eBay was my whole world, and I looked up to a lot of those other sellers. Regardless, eBay made the choice for me. My account was suspended just as I was about to launch the website. The reason? Doing what I did best—getting free marketing. I was leaving the URL of my future website in the feedback area for my customers.

No More Auctions

			Finally, after a year and a half, I had outgrown the pool house. I moved the business into a one-thousand-square-foot loft in an old shipyard in Benicia, California—even farther from all of my friends in the city. I bought the URL nastygalvintage.com, because at the time, nastygal.com was still registered to a porn site (sorry, moms!). I enlisted my middle school friend Cody, who was a developer. I did the graphic design and he did the programming. We picked out the e-commerce platform together, and he made it work. It was the first and last website I’ve ever designed.

			When you leave eBay, you can’t take your customer information with you. While I had none of my customers’ e-mail addresses, I had my sixty thousand friends on MySpace to fall back on. When the Nasty Gal Vintage site launched on Friday the 13th of June 2008, everything sold out in the first day. Kelly Ripa’s stylist called and asked if I had another one of those vintage jackets, but in an Extra Small? Um, no, I did not.

			Soon after, I hired my first employee, Christina Ferrucci. For the first year, I paid her more than I was paying myself. She haggled from $14 an hour to $16, both of which were more than I’d ever been paid, and in the back of my head, I was worried about whether I’d be able to keep her busy. But she was worth that, and more, and she was definitely busy. On her second week of work, she got so sick on her way in that she threw up in her car while driving and just kept right on, finally making her way to work. In she came, packed a bunch of orders, drove to the post office and shipped them, then went back home and crawled into bed. Christina is still with me today and is now Nasty Gal’s buying director. If business is war, I always think that’s the kind of #GIRLBOSS I want next to me in the trenches.

			After over two years of selling exclusively vintage, I wanted to give our customer more of what she wanted. We were already good at curating ultra-memorable editorial vintage pieces for her, so why not curate new things as well? I was getting tired of the vintage schlep—selling out week after week, with no future of taking a vacation in sight.

			Six months after launching the website, Christina and I attended our first trade show in Las Vegas. No one had heard of us, and we had never done this before. I approached Jeffrey Campbell’s booth, knowing he was a brand we wanted to work with. I was instantly told no. One thing you should know about me is when I hear no, I rarely listen. It takes a special kind of stubbornness to succeed as an entrepreneur. And anyway, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. I marched back, opened up my smartphone, and showed Jeffrey what he was missing out on nastygalvintage.com. Soon after, we were Jeffrey Campbell’s newest online store and to this day we are one of his biggest customers. I also approached Sam Edelman, and when they were resistant, showed them the website and promised that we would make their brand cool. We did, and soon after we had sold $75,000 worth of their Zoe boot.

			We started slowly. We purchased some stuff from a brand called Rojas; I remember it distinctly. Our first delivery was a red-and-black plaid trapeze dress with a shirt collar and button-down front. I shot it on Nida, my five-foot-nine Thai dream girl of a model who had been the star of the eBay store. A New Orleans refugee, she was a mere sixteen when she began modeling for me (I found her on MySpace, naturally), eventually graduating from high school while continuing to be paid in hamburgers and $20 bills. The dress sold out, and we reordered it.

			We started buying units of six, testing the waters to see what sold and what didn’t. If it sold, we learned. If it didn’t sell, we learned. And we kept on learning. Six units became twelve, twelve became twenty-four, and our once exclusively vintage business became an online destination where the coolest girls could find not only vintage, but small designers at good prices, styled in a way no one had seen before. Nasty Gal was our customers’ best-kept secret, but word got out—and on we grew. Sometimes Christina and I got confused and asked each other if an item had been taken down because it had suddenly disappeared from the site. On these occasions we spent a few minutes trying to figure out the system glitch before we finally realized that it had sold out almost immediately.

			Though these terms are all too familiar to me now, I didn’t know back then what “market research” or “direct to consumer” meant, or even that my customers constituted a “demographic.” I just knew that talking to the girls who bought from me was important and always had been. When MySpace began its descent toward becoming a Justin Timberlake pet project, I, along with my customers, migrated to other social networks and kept the 24/7 conversation going. I thrived on it. My customers told me what they wanted, and I always knew that if I listened to them, we’d both do okay. We did better than okay, though. Together we were fucking amazing.

			A year after moving into the shipyard, Nasty Gal had already outgrown the space. The company moved to Gilman Street, in Berkeley, a block from the legendary punk club, into a storefront next to a piano store. Our one thousand square feet had become seventeen hundred square feet and we had our own parking. Score! Here, we hired our first team: someone to ship orders and someone to write product descriptions. I called up my old friend Paul, hoping he’d join part-time as our first photographer in our storefront-cum-warehouse. Paul, always up for an adventure, accepted.

			After Paul came Stacey, my friend of several years who was then moonlighting at the Christian Dior boutique in San Francisco. She had impeccable taste and an iconic look: a rail-thin beauty with a mane of dark hair pouring over steep cheekbones. I trained Stacey in the styling tips and tricks of Nasty Gal, and it didn’t hurt that she had once been a makeup artist for Chanel. She, along with our intern, Nick, brushed, blushed, buttoned, zipped, glossed, and dusted away; I focused on buying, social media, and running the business; Christina managed our small team. While many people would be happy with a manageable small business, there was nothing manageable about this. It was growing by the minute, it seemed, and we were constantly in need of more everything—people, inventory, and space, for starters.

				 					Our first logo and my first business card.

			In eight short months we had outgrown our Berkeley storefront. We needed a proper warehouse, and I found one in the neighboring city of Emeryville, the famous home of Pixar. I had never thought I’d ever be taking on a seventy-five-hundred-square-foot space. I’d never worked in a warehouse and I had never negotiated such a hefty lease. I was both excited and terrified, and knew I needed more help than I currently had. The “champagne problem” of selling out of vintage faster than we could keep up with had begun happening with our designer stuff as well, which had by this point surpassed vintage in sales volume. We were growing 700 percent over the prior year, which is almost unheard of in retail. Customer e-mails came in faster than we could respond to them. Orders were packed with feverish delight, and my trusty ’87 Volvo and I were schlepping to Los Angeles weekly to buy, buy, buy up a storm.

			I had begun working with a consultant, Dana Fried, who (surprise!) I found online. He’d been the COO and CFO at Taryn Rose shoes, and had a lot of experience in running companies. Dana and I decided that I needed someone to run the guts of the business: fulfillment, finance, and human resources. We wrote a job description for a director of operations, but what I ended up getting was someone who was much more than that; we got someone who would help shape the future of Nasty Gal.

			Typically, people with Frank’s experience don’t apply for jobs. I was shocked to receive a résumé from someone who had twenty years of experience in operations at Lands’ End and had been COO of Nordstrom’s online and catalog business. But Frank knew that Nasty Gal was on a tear, and also knew that type of fun is hard to come by. Frank had a lot of solutions. He told me about this thing called an “org chart,” a tool companies use to map out the structure and hierarchy of their teams. Then, he told me about “departments.” It was like we were inventing the wheel! First came a director of human resources. Then a controller. After that, a customer care manager, an inventory planner, and a manager of fulfillment. We got an IT guy. We got assistant buyers, and I got an assistant. We split up shipping and receiving, and created a returns department. Cody joined the team full time and became our e-commerce manager. We turned on the phones for the first time and had multiple lines and headsets—so official! No longer did our customers have to e-mail to reach us—they could just call! You are welcome, customers!

			As we plotted and strategized, I was a sponge, soaking it all up. As the business grew, I grew, and the ambiguity that once terrified me became something I thrived on. I was still ADD, but found that running my own company meant that every single day, if not every hour, there was some sort of new challenge to tackle, a new problem to solve, and there was no time to linger on anything, let alone get bored. We hit our first $100,000 day, and I decided to celebrate: I rented a giant, horse-shaped bounce house and had it blown up in the warehouse. Send a few e-mails, bounce bounce bounce. Ship a few orders, bounce bounce bounce . . . It was pretty much the best day ever.

			To everyone’s surprise but mine, we outgrew our Emeryville warehouse in just one short year. By this time, I was getting used to the growth. It didn’t make it any easier, but I could at least see around the corner, even if just a little. I stopped listening to the folks with experience—even Dana—because even they hadn’t seen the magnitude of growth we were experiencing. In the fall of 2010, I once again started the search for more space. I was growing weary of my monthly and sometimes weekly trips to LA, where I crashed on my friend Kate’s couch so much that I started to worry about wearing out my welcome. Nearly every showroom and designer we worked with was down there, and I was flying in to cast models we then flew up to shoot with us. I knew that I wanted to design and manufacture our own products, and that the Bay Area was a wasteland of creative talent who were just not right for us. With such conservative brands as Gap, Macy’s, and Banana Republic as our neighbors, hiring was nearly impossible. For these reasons, I made the decision to move the company to Los Angeles.

			Two months later, that is exactly what I did. I asked thirteen team members if they would relocate, and all but one said yes. Three and a half years later, they’re almost all still here in LA, growing along with me and about three hundred and fifty others.


			Christina Ferrucci, Buying Director at Nasty Gal

			I put myself through college working at a store in San Francisco and it was there that I realized I had a knack for curating clothing. After I graduated, I thought about fashion blogging among other things and came across a Craigslist post for an assistant at a place called Nasty Gal. I’d never heard of the brand and at the time my wardrobe was composed of daily deals from the Haight Street Goodwill, but I liked that it was vintage clothing and it spoke to me in a way that was unfamiliar but authentic. At the time I was beyond broke and I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, and it seemed like being an assistant was temporary and I could leave at any time. Five years later I’m still here. I didn’t set out on a charted career path; I chose to follow what I’m good at and what interests me.

			At the beginning Nasty Gal was a one-woman show operating out of a small studio space. It was overwhelming to watch Sophia bounce from being behind the camera to styling a pair of pants to creating the graphics for an e-mail, but her energy was contagious. Sophia was very connected with the customers and held herself to a high standard to keep them engaged and satisfied. She put a lot of pressure on herself, and so I did, too. After a few weeks at Nasty Gal I was part of what quickly became a two-woman show.

			Sophia and I learned about the business as we went along, most of which was through trial and error. If a style worked really well, we took note and tried to replicate that success. If a style was bad, it was dead to us. Pretty simple guidelines, but keeping it simple has always been part of the Nasty Gal DNA. Walking through our first trade show and saying the name Nasty Gal was an unforgettable experience and a life lesson in the power of persistence. We always said the name at least twice, because everyone asked us to repeat it. Then a vague smile or a bad joke would be followed up with Sophia’s getting on her smartphone and showing them that it was a real website and it was cute. We made a lot of mistakes at that trade show about what we thought the customer wanted and what was right for the brand. Ultimately, we learned more than we would have if we hadn’t taken those risks, and to this day I instill those takeaways in our buying team. I’ve learned to make really quick decisions that shape the future in a positive way. One talent that I bring to the table is my ability to insult the clothing. For example, “the colors of those pants look like hospital scrubs” or “the shape of that dress is for a toddler.” This ability has served me well and has probably saved the customer from some questionable choices. Looking at the product is still my favorite part. I want to be part of creating the best shopping experience for our customer and I feel that Nasty Gal has the ability to do that better than anyone’s ever done before.

			Being a part of Nasty Gal’s success has been surprising, exciting, and completely insane at times. As the first employee, I’ve worn many different hats (most at the same time). From being an assistant to going over HR benefits with new hires to being a buyer, customer care rep, or a manager to a shipping department full of dudes—you name it, I’ve done it. Now, as the buying director, I can say this has been a strange but rewarding career. When I applied for that Craigslist ad I stumbled on something that comes across once in a lifetime. It was meant to be.

		 			 				“There are secret opportunities hidden inside every failure.”


			Shitty Jobs Saved My Life

			It was the straying that found the path direct.

			—Austin Osman Spare

				 					The only good thing about being a child model was that I got to skip school.

I think I may hold some kind of record for Most Shitty Jobs Held Prior to Turning Eighteen. Or if not that, I’d most certainly win the Most Shitty Jobs That Lasted Two Weeks or Less Award. As a kid, I’d dabbled in employment: lemonade stands, a paper route, babysitting, and a brief stint as a child model that ended when I failed to muster the enthusiasm to jump up and down and shout “Pizza Pizza!” at a Little Caesars casting. My high school years were like speed dating, but for jobs. Maybe none of these shitty jobs really saved my life, but I do believe that my variety of short-lived failures, or as I prefer to call it, job promiscuity, made me an experienced young adult. When you have an attention span the length of an eyelash, it doesn’t take long to learn what you like and what you don’t. I generally have to throw a ton of shit at the wall before learning what sticks (and no, it is no longer literally shit). To the misfortune of all the employers I’ve left in my wake, it was well worth it.

				 					Evidence of the low point otherwise known as Catholic school.

			 			Before the tale of my litany of shitty jobs began, I attended ten schools in my twelve years of education. Because we moved, because our financial situation changed, because I hated it. By the time I was in third grade, my parents didn’t know what to do with me—I got in trouble for being “off task,” reading a dictionary in the back of the classroom. Some miracle qualified me to be placed in a rapid-learner program in third grade, which ended up being a joke—we read newspapers on the floor all day and my teacher “didn’t believe in math.” Obviously, this was not the solution, so I was then placed in Catholic school. And guess what? That didn’t work either!

			No matter where I went, I was an outsider (and generally led with poop humor, which didn’t make me many friends). I got along as well with the cool kids as I did with the nerds. That spirit of forced tourism, along with my quickly learned survival mechanisms, eventually also made it easy to jump from job to job. Fortunately, the economy was in good shape when I began working at the age of fifteen, which allowed me to get a job, quit, and get hired again very easily. I was never disappointed when a particular job didn’t work out, since I’d already lived an entire life feeling so far out of place that I’d given up hope that any one thing, place, person, or occupation could be my calling.

Misadventures in Job Promiscuity

			I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

			—Douglas Adams

			This difficulty in “getting along” lasted throughout my entire youth. As a high school student, every time I heard the school bell ring, I told myself my life was over before it had even begun. When you’re eating lunch with your über-liberal history teacher instead of hanging with friends, you know it’s time to go. I managed to convince my parents to let me home-school for the last part of my sophomore year. I had a teacher who came over once a month to dole out assignments, but most of my time was spent working. There was a Subway near our house, so I walked over, filled out an application, and became a Sandwich Artist. I wore the green polo shirt and visor with pride, working the day shift and conquering the lunch rush, despite not yet knowing what a lunch rush was.

			Part of my job was to wear gloves and massage mayonnaise into the tuna. Sexy! I’d slap the tuna into a bowl and pour out half a gallon of mayonnaise, put gloves on, and massage the mayo in with my hands. Another favorite was the seafood, which arrived in a giant slab of perforated fake crab that I’d break apart with my fingers and go to town on.

			I don’t even remember why I quit, but the next job I got was working at a Borders bookstore. I really enjoyed this job. At the time, Who Moved My Cheese? was the book that everyone came in asking for. I didn’t know what it was about, and I still don’t. Sadly, my work at Borders did not involve mayo or rubber gloves, but working the information desk was a big step up, as I got to use my brain.

			Borders put their staff through a pretty major training program, which, despite my anticorporate leanings at this point in life, I found highly valuable and still do. For example, they taught me to say “yes” instead of “sure”; or “let me check” instead of “I don’t know” when I was helping customers. A very important tidbit about customer service: just apologize to people. Even if it’s not your fault, they’ve been disappointed by the company you work for and it’s your job to empathize with them. Though you may be paid minimum wage, to the customers you are the face of the entire company. It’s this kind of accountability that gets people raises, promotions, and eventually careers.

			As a teenager and into my early twenties, I thought that I would never embrace capitalism, much less be a public champion for it. I was certain that I’d live my years out trying to make a career as a photographer, getting by holding jobs because I had to, not because I wanted to. I’m not that cynical anymore. I’ve learned that it’s typically the larger companies out there that provide the template for employees to chart a path for themselves and continue to develop in their respective fields as well as in their management skills. At Nasty Gal today, we have a little something we call “Our Philosophy” that’s posted around the office. We employ an amazing Human Resources and Benefits team to ensure that our practices are fair and that our employees are well taken care of. Before Nasty Gal, I hardly knew what HR stood for (high rise, as in jeans? Or HR, the lead singer from Bad Brains?), and a philosophy was something that I would have fully rolled my eyes at. But when a company is on a trajectory as crazy as Nasty Gal’s, and becomes as big as Nasty Gal, these kinds of things are more than just corporate mumbo jumbo—they’re integral to having a positive company culture.

			My stint at Borders, even though I liked it, only lasted about six months. After that, I practiced more job promiscuity at the local factory outlet mall, working at a couple of different shoe stores (both specialized in orthopedic shoes) and at another bookstore. Then I worked at a dry cleaner’s, where I sat alone, in the back, scrubbing ring-around-the collar out of men’s shirts and separating them by starch level.

				 					The fact that I quit my job at Borders in no way diminishes how much I learned from it.

			I worked at a restaurant for about a day, and that I really hated. I wasn’t exactly a people person, and that’s what working in a restaurant is: people, nonstop people. I wondered, if I was going to make the same amount of money no matter what I did, then what should I choose to do? To be a bumbling server (I say that only because I was a major bumbler), get stressed out over spilled milk, or sit here in this dimly lit Dexter shoes? I’d rather work at Dexter and read a book. Even though I always worked hard as an employee, all of these jobs still only used about 15 percent of my brain (max) and each job I loved eventually grew boring. It felt a bit like Groundhog Day—every day was the same, no matter how much I’d done the day before. And with no Bill Murray? No thanks. At this point in my litany of shitty jobs, I’d never reaped what I’d sown, and that, I eventually learned, is the only way I can stay engaged.

Fight the Boredom

			To be, in a word, unborable. . . . It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.

			—David Foster Wallace

			This was the phase of my life where I chose jobs because they were really easy. The last job I had before Nasty Gal, I was a campus safety host in the lobby of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I quite literally did nothing, and that was the entire reason I took the job. Hell no would I be making a difference or earning my keep! I wanted to be a cheaper version of a security guard, dick around on MySpace, and periodically yell, “Hey, you need to sign in!” As soon as my shift began, I was waiting for it to end. I realize how lame this sounds now. And guess what? It was lame. It makes me sad to remember how apathetic I was. I hope that I made some of these mistakes so that you, dear hardworking #GIRLBOSS in the making, won’t have to.

			What I know now is that nothing is universally boring—what’s boring to you could be totally engaging to someone else. If you’re bored and hating it, it’s a big sign that you’re most likely just in the wrong place. There are some folks who just straight up hate work, no matter what kind of work it is. This book just isn’t for those people. Unless you’re born the child of a billionaire, work is something we all have to do. So hell, make it something you enjoy, because bored is not a #GIRLBOSS’s natural state. At all.

			Unless you’re powered by an ungodly amount of spite, it’s pretty impossible to succeed while doing something that you genuinely hate. Personally, I am horrible at public relations. There’s a whole art to PR that’s being you on demand and saying the right thing at the right time, and that I’ve never mastered. A good publicist has to be capable of selling while still being genuine and building relationships. Kaitlyn, Nasty Gal’s PR director, loves her job, and she’s great at it. She’s a total extrovert and loves people, so she thrives on being in constant contact with everyone all the time. I jokingly refer to the financial side of the business as “the boring stuff,” but that’s only because it’s boring to me. Our CFO loves to look at graphs and spreadsheets and all sorts of acronyms that I am only just beginning to understand. That’s fantastic, because if there weren’t people who found finance or international logistics fascinating, none of us at Nasty Gal would have a job.

				 					Using my love for photography to explore the oppressive nature of time.

			 			My biggest weakness as an employee (and also as a friend) was my incurable inability to be on time. Time may be the one thing in the world I can’t negotiate, no matter how hard I’ve tried. It plagues me to this day. I was always grumpy about the fact that I had to take twenty minutes out of my personal life to get to work, considering those twenty minutes were unpaid. To squeeze every last moment of “my” life (as I felt they owned me during work hours), I’d leave as late as possible for work, ensuring I was pretty much always late. Sometimes being late is unavoidable (aka shit happens), but being repeatedly, predictably late is a wonderful way to let your boss know that you just don’t care about your job. No one wants to hire, or continue to employ, someone who blatantly doesn’t care.

			I finally found a job at a hydroponic plant store. We jammed out to A Tribe Called Quest while I balanced the pH levels of the water. I took care of a giant banana tree that was rooted in lava rock that resembled enlarged rabbit droppings. I loved that job. After that, I did landscaping, thinking it would be good exercise to be outside, lugging hoses and a wheelbarrow around an office complex. This lasted about two weeks. Go ahead, you can laugh and wonder what I was thinking, because seriously, what was I thinking? But no matter the job, the outcome was usually the same—I got bored and quit.

			Yet when I started Nasty Gal, I found that I enjoyed work and thrived on challenges. My days passed by in a happy blur because I was too busy to look at the clock. This was very different from having nothing to do but count the minutes while someone who was no smarter than me dictated eight hours of my day. I’ve always had issues with following the rules, which has made Nasty Gal the only thing I’m capable of doing.

			What all of these jobs taught me is that you have to be willing to tolerate some shit you don’t like—at least for a while. This is what my parents’ generation would call “character building,” but I prefer to call it “#GIRLBOSS training.” I didn’t expect to love any of these jobs, but I learned a lot because I worked hard and grew to love things about them. Admittedly, some were way below anyone’s intelligence level. But no matter what, I approached them with a sense of tourism and experimentation. Rather than being tied to how it all worked out, I felt like I was just going to see where things went. When you approach everything as if it’s a big, fun experiment, then it’s not that big of a deal if things don’t work out. If the plan changes, that can be even better. There are secret opportunities hidden inside every failure, which I’ll get into in another chapter, but start looking now—they are everywhere!

			And the shitty jobs made the good ones more meaningful. Most people don’t land their dream job right out of the gate, which means we all have to start somewhere. You’ll appreciate your amazing career so much more when you look back at your not-so-amazing jobs in the past, and hopefully realize that you learned something from all of them. What I did before starting Nasty Gal gave me perspective and a diversity of experience, which for me was as important as everything that I’ve done since. It took me a while to recognize this, though, because I wanted a Chutes and Ladders experience with only ladders and no chutes. I was looking for something that would pay me to do nothing and still get ahead in life, and that, my friends, just does not exist (unless you’re Paris Hilton, who I’m not sure is actually ahead in any way, especially when it comes to fashion).

			I recently heard someone use the acronym “IWWIWWWIWI,” which stands for “I Want What I Want When and Where I Want It.” One might call this the motto of my generation. We’re Internet kids who have been spoiled by our desires being no more than a click away. We think fast, type fast, move fast, and expect everything else to happen just as fast. I’m guilty of it, too. I didn’t have the patience to finish high school, or to go to college, or to wait for a career that would take a long time to develop. As an employer I see this often from new hires fresh out of college who expect to immediately get an awesome job that satisfies all of their super-pure creative urges and pays well. Hey, that’s a great goal. But, like everything, you’ve got to work for what you want. I see so many résumés of people who’ve interned at 20 million amazing places. That’s great, I’m glad that you were able to explore your interests and gain exposure, but if you’ve been interning for five years, to me it seems as though you don’t need to work. I respect people who are willing to just roll up their sleeves and get the job done, even if it’s a shitty one. Trust me, there ain’t no shame in that game, and I can make one hell of a tuna sandwich to prove it.

School: It’s Not My Jam

			I was who I was in high school in accordance with the rules of conduct for a normal person, like obeying your mom and dad. Then I got out of high school and moved out of the house, and I just started, for lack of a better term, running free.

			—Iggy Pop

			By now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that school and I didn’t quite hit it off. Frankly, I have conflicted feelings about that. There have been many times that I wished I had the vision, patience, and discipline to have stuck with college for four years. I have a lot of respect for people who do. But school wasn’t my jam, and the whole philosophy behind this book is that true success lies in knowing your weaknesses and playing to your strengths. In short, when you suck at something and don’t want it anyway, cut your losses and move on. I sucked at being patient and sucked at seeing anything long term, which I have now outgrown. But if you’re driven, patient, and want to go to school, I’ll be the last one to tell you to do anything otherwise.

			There were times when I hated school not because of the other kids, but the wacked-out adults I was stuck with. Remember the rapid-learner program teacher who didn’t believe in math? Well, she lived across from the zoo and brought in raw owl pellets, dumping them on our desks for us to dissect. It smelled like barf because it actually was barf. I hated that teacher. In fourth grade, my Catholic school teacher sent me home with a note that detailed my daily transgressions. Ms. Curtis was convinced I was bonkers. My sins included getting up to drink from the water fountain too often, getting up to sharpen my pencils too many times, and taking too long on trips to the bathroom. My mom, completely exasperated at this point, said “We know you’re not nuts . . . right?”

				 					No caption needed: This report card says it all.

			 			“Nope, I’m not nuts!” I said, so we negotiated. If I brought home a good note for five days in a row, then she’d take me to the Sanrio store. Soon enough, every Friday I was picking out Hello Kitty this and Kero Kero Keroppi that, my backpack filled to the brim with positive notes from my teacher.

			In seventh grade, I asked my science teacher if I could stand on a chair while giving my presentation, because I was proud of it and wanted to make sure that everyone could see it. He said no. Hey, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission: I took him literally and stood on a lab table instead.

			As the years went on, I only felt more alienated. I went to high school in the suburbs, which was a sterile environment, and not in a good, non-owl-barf-having kind of way. All strip malls and outlet stores, there was little more to do than smoke weed by the river and sneak into apartment-complex hot tubs. High school was all bimbos and jocks, and popularity was a matter of how clean you could keep your sneakers. In those days, I wore flared jeans, platform Birkenstocks, and always a belt, usually one that was covered in spikes. I wore a do-rag, and my septum piercing was concealed inside my nose. Obviously, I was destined for a career in fashion.

			The pure mechanics of the traditional school system were spirit crushing. I felt it was the Man’s way of training America’s youth to endure a lifetime repeating the behaviors taught in school, but in an office environment. I felt like a prisoner. I woke up at the same time every day and sat in the same chairs five days a week. I had no more autonomy than a Pavlovian dog. First-world problems, right?

			My favorite teacher was Mr. Sharon, the one I ate lunch with on a nearly daily basis. He believed in me. He was vegetarian. He taught us U.S. history from the book Lies My Teacher Told Me and brought in bits of writing from anarchist Emma Goldman. I learned that Helen Keller was a Socialist! I was proud of my video project, which was a series of pans with Bad Religion’s angst-ridden song “Infected” as the soundtrack. Bam, shot of the Nike factory outlet store. Bam, shot of money. Bam, shot of a graveyard.

				 					Mr. Sharon, my favorite teacher and lunch buddy. He wrote poetry, man.

			 			But aside from Mr. Sharon’s one-hour fart of freedom wafting through the jail bars, high school was a wasteland.

			It was around this time that a psychiatrist diagnosed me with both depression and ADD. Though there was no doubt I was depressed, I refused to take the pills that he prescribed, instead throwing them away. I knew then that my utter misery and universal disinterest were not due to a chemical imbalance. This wasn’t something that could just be medicated out of me—I just hated where I was.

			It’s unfortunate that school is so often regarded as a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. And if it doesn’t fit, you’re treated as if there is something wrong with you; so it is you, not the system, which is failing. Now, I’m not trying to give every slacker a free pass to cut class and head straight to Burger King, but I do think we should acknowledge that school isn’t for everyone. So, #GIRLBOSS, if you suck at school, don’t let it kill your spirit. It does not mean that you are stupid or worthless, or that you are never going to succeed at anything. It just means that your talents lie elsewhere, so take the opportunity to seek out what you are good at, and find a place where you can flourish. Once you do, you’re going to kill it.


			Madeline Poole, MPNAILS.com (@MPnails)

			When I was really young, before I knew what was up, I wanted to be a cleaning lady (because I loved making patterns on the rug with a vacuum) and a basketball player (because I loved the outfits) and I wanted to live in Connecticut and have a royal-purple foyer that I would call a “fo-yay” with a French accent. I wanted to be fabulous. Some things have changed but I’m still striving for fabulousness. I knew I didn’t want to worry—I wanted a well-traveled, creatively inspired life where money was not my first concern.

			I’d had countless jobs, usually creative but always low on the totem pole. I wrapped presents at a jewelry store, served snow cones, taught swimming lessons, cut bagels, worked at a coffee shop, and at a few restaurants—even Panera! I was breaducated. I restored posters, I catered, I nannied, I worked on an ice-cream truck, I sewed sequins on headbands, sewed tags on T-shirts, painted walls, murals, removed wallpaper, assisted a prop stylist, a food stylist, and some Devil Wears Prada–type fashion stylists.

			My dad gave me a hard time, and all I could tell him was that I wanted to be an expert. Whatever I ended up specializing in, I would make sure to be the best at it. I was a hard worker, I always had been, and finally . . . I saw a lady painting a model’s nails on the set of a photo shoot and thought, I would be really good at that!

			I quit my various part-time jobs and enrolled in LA’s cheapest beauty school. I was at my all-time most stressed and poor, sitting under fluorescent lighting, wearing a dust mask, watching a cheesy lady demonstrate airbrush makeup on a fake head. But I always knew it would work out.

			Now I’m an on-set, freelance manicurist on fashion editorial and commercial photo shoots, I develop nail products, and I work on lots of creative projects that have anything to do with nails. In short, I’m an expert.

			When I’m not working, I’m still working. I’m always observing, I’m taking photos of patterns and colors I see on the streets, I’m jotting down ideas, I’m meeting new people, connecting the dots, researching my craft, trying out new products, giving my friends manicures, working on my website, updating my social media accounts, working on my own products, on collaborative projects, putting together inspiration boards or sketching new ideas. I’m working on my craft and my business not because I feel obligated, but because I love it. I’ve always had to work hard because I had no other choice, but I always believed in myself.

			I always knew I’d be a #GIRLBOSS.

		 			 				“Discomfort was where I was most comfortable.”


			Shoplifting (and Hitchhiking) Saved My Life

			We dumpstered, squatted, and shoplifted our lives back. Everything fell into place when we decided our lives were to be lived. Life serves the risk taker.


I don’t remember the first thing I stole. However, I do remember (with zero pride) that it happened a lot. At one point, someone tried to recruit me to shoplift an Apple MacBook for him, and that was when I realized that holy shit, I have a reputation as a thief. There are plenty of things I’d like to be known for (armpit farting, photography, my legendary dance moves), but being a fabulous shoplifter is not one of them.

			I’m not proud of this phase of my life. And it’s so far removed from who I am now that it sometimes seems surreal. Recently, I had a meeting with executives from Nordstrom, and then a few days later, a meeting with the CEO of Michael Kors. And the whole time, I’m sitting in this meeting, thinking, Oh, my god, I stole a Michael Kors watch from Nordstrom when I was seventeen. . . . These were my lost years, and there were dozens of times when I could have irreparably messed up my future. It is a miracle, and through no fault of my own, that I didn’t.

On Anarchism, for a Sec

			People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take.

			—Emma Goldman

			For the latter half of my teen years, I was pretty lost. Though I knew who I was and always refused compromise, I had no clue what I wanted. I was willing to try almost anything, but my incessant desire to simultaneously reject everything created a challenging paradox. Another way to describe this attitude would be “immature.”

			When I was still living with my parents, I made the drive from Sacramento to the Anarchist Book Fair in San Francisco every year. As you can imagine, I listened to a lot of angry music in those days. When I was fifteen, I discovered Refused’s album, The Shape of Punk to Come, and that turned me on to Guy Debord and the Situationists. I’d already been heavy into Emma Goldman, and was frequenting a Marxist study group in which my friends and I were the only people under forty. As I said before, as a teenager, I thought that life sucked and that my life—“oppressed” as I was by school and the suburbs—especially sucked. The ideals of anarchism were perfect for me. I believed that capitalism was the source of all greed, inequality, and destruction in the world. I thought that big corporations were running the world (which I now know they do) and by supporting them, I was condoning their evil ways (which is true, but a girl’s gotta put gas in her car).

			I wanted to live outside the capitalist structure, to live free and travel free, and to exist outside a nine-to-five lifestyle. I was like an old bearded hippie trapped in a teenage girl’s body. I wanted to live spontaneously and to find myself in wild places, with wild people, and have wild times. Let me remind you, I was naïve enough to believe this was how I could live my life indefinitely. But thinking back now makes me scared for my former self the way any mother would be scared for her teenage daughter doing what I did.

				 					Do not knock a dumpstered bagel until you’ve tried one.

			At seventeen, before I even graduated high school, I moved out. My parents were in the midst of their divorce and too busy dismantling two decades of marriage to keep me safe any longer. I embarked on my dream of an adventurous life, trying on as many different experiences as I could. I was vegan. I was freegan. I hitchhiked to an Earth First! Rendezvous in the middle of the forest where I ate magic mushrooms and watched people set a pentagram made of sticks on fire. I refused to buy new wood; too angry with capitalism’s disregard for sustainability, I furnished my places with a mix of sidewalk freebies and lifted merch instead. I dumpster-dived at Krispy Kreme, dated a guy who lived in a tree house, and had hair upon my legs.

			While this all may sound extreme, it didn’t seem that way to me at the time. I’d felt like an outsider my entire life, in every school and at every job, and had finally thrown in the towel on finding anyplace that I completely belonged. Discomfort was where I was most comfortable.

Sun’s Out, Thumbs Out

			But if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.

			—Junot Díaz

			When I was seventeen, I decided to hitchhike to Olympia, Washington. Joanne, my travel companion I’d known for a total of twenty-four hours, and I stood on the shoulder of an on-ramp in Downtown Sacramento, holding up a cardboard sign. The first person who picked us up was a Russian guy named Yuri, who was driving a little Honda with a busted-out back window and a bashed-in steering column. In outlaw terms, the car was likely stolen. NBD, right? Nothing weird about that. I had a switchblade on my belt (it was for cutting apples!), and besides, we were invincible. Disclaimer: Please don’t ever, ever do any of the stupid things that I talk about in this chapter.

			We asked Yuri where he was headed, and started to get suspicious when he said West Sacramento, which we had already passed and was many miles behind us on the freeway. After some negotiation, he finally agreed to drop us off in Redding, which was at least on the way to where we were going. Then he threw in the deal breaker.

			“For love?” he said.

			“No!” I shrieked back, too grossed out to be scared. We demanded that he let us out, and he started to apologize right away. But if the hot-wired car had somehow not tipped us off to the fact that he was a creepy dude, the “for love” deal breaker left little doubt. Yuri let us out at a gas station, still apologizing profusely in broken English, and this was how we found ourselves stuck outside a town called Zamora, backpacks in tow, and not another building in sight.

			I looked around and saw two cars gassing up, but both were breeders (aka families), which any intelligent hitchhiker knew better than to approach. There was a big rig idling on the on-ramp, so figuring that this was our best option, I walked up to it and knocked on the cab.

			A big guy named James answered the door, and informed us he was en route to Eugene. That seemed close enough to Olympia, and because we had no other option, we got in. James was from the South, and had a friend’s son with him, as he was teaching the kid how, as he called it, to “drive truck.” As we started up the highway, Joanne—who was a complete and total idiot—asked James if she could use his mobile phone, which in 2002 was a giant Nokia. He said sure, as long as she gave him a back rub, which she did! And of course, as soon as she was finished, he changed his mind. He told her that no, she couldn’t use his phone, but he’d pay for her to use a pay phone. She got very upset as I sat there rolling my eyes, thinking, You idiot, that’s why you don’t give strange men back rubs! At this point, I had probably never touched another person’s pubes, so there was no way at all I related to this freak I was traveling with.

			By law, truckers have to pull over every certain number of hours to sleep—a law that keeps them from snorting speed and staying up for days on end. James’s truck was huge, and had plastic, prisonlike bunk beds in the back. He pulled over to the side of the road, and quickly outlined the sleeping arrangements. “She’s with him,” he said, pointing at my idiot traveling companion and his friend, then at me: “And you’re with me!” James had already told me that he was attracted to my hairy legs, which I thought was revolting because part of the reason I had hairy legs in the first place was to keep guys away from me.

			“No way!” I said. “We’ll share one, and you guys share one!”

			“I ain’t sleeping with no man.” He chortled, making clear his disgust.

			“Well, I’m not sharing a bed with you!” I responded, and told him that if necessary, I would sit on the floor and wait it out. This did not go over well with James, who made us decide: Either do what he said or get the fuck out.

			For the second time, we found ourselves on the side of the highway with nothing but knives, backpacks, and a flashlight. It was three in the morning, and we were standing on the shoulder of the freeway, on the side of a mountain in southern Oregon, twenty miles south of the nearest exit. Joanne was really tan, like a homeless woman or someone from Maui. I don’t even know how she got that tan, but that’s an aside. I suggested that our safest bet was to throw our sleeping bags down in the forest until daybreak, but like the idiot she was she refused, citing she was “afraid of animals.” Not afraid to give a giant freak a back rub, but afraid of getting nuzzled by a baby deer, apparently. Our flashlights being the only light available, we waved down another big rig, which stopped about a hundred yards away because those things are so goddamn heavy. We ran through the darkness to see what surprise we might find behind door number three.

				 					Seattle, where I spent almost as much time cutting my own hair as I did shoplifting. 2002.

			 			The next episode seemed simpler: just the driver and his massive, drooling canine. The guy was a Bible-thumper who went on about Jesus and smacked his dog whenever it barked. He told us that his mom was a prostitute and that his brother burned a house down at age five. He was pretty cracked out, but for the first time all night, we were riding with someone who wasn’t interested in Yuri’s proverbial “love.” Um, that was a relief. And the ride got better when the sun came up, as the driver let us get on his CB radio and harass the logging trucks, blasting them with insults like, “Hey loggers, do you know you’re ruining the environment?” as we passed them on the highway.

			This guy’s trip ended in Eugene, and as we pulled into a truck stop, he got on his radio and found us a ride the rest of the way to Olympia. Our final chauffer was a very nice trucking dad who riffed about his wife and kids the whole way, dropping us safely in Olympia.

No Time for Crime

			I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.

			—Joan Didion

			At eighteen, I decided to move to Olympia, Washington, semipermanently to establish residency so I could attend the Evergreen State College, an interdisciplinary school devoid of majors. No, seriously—you can major in Madonna. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but Evergreen’s unconventionality made it seem like, just maybe, this was a school I could get along with. Because my political ethos at that time didn’t really jibe with working for the Man, I started shoplifting—and shoplifting a lot—to support myself.

			Here’s some irony for you: The first thing that I ever sold online was stolen. At this point, I was palling around with full-time, bona fide anarchists. They were tree-sitters, activists, naturalists, hobos, feminists, radical publishers, thieves, scam artists, and one person who refused to accept gender, classifying him- or herself “z” instead of “he” or “she.”

			My friend Mack (an assumed name as I later found out, as he was a fugitive at the time) was a bit of a celebrity in this world. He’d written Evasion, a book that was a universal anthem for the underground society we operated in. The cover read “Homelessness, Unemployment, Poverty . . . If You’re Not Having Fun You’re Not Doing It Right.” We were like Quentin Tarantino characters: a stylish duo with quick wits and grifters’ tongues. We valued “social engineering” over socializing, preferring to spend our days tricking corporations into thinking we were just your average, paying customers. . . .

			Books were an easy entry point for a novice shoplifter like me. Each time, I checked Amazon to see what the top ten bestsellers were, then made my way to a big corporate bookstore, waltzed up to the front table, grabbed a stack of that bestseller, and waltzed right back out with as many as I could carry. Why didn’t I conceal my crime? Under Mack’s tutelage, I learned that the more you tried to hide, the shadier you looked. The best thieves are so obvious that they don’t even raise a brow, and with a stack of hardback thrillers under my arm, I was just another employee organizing the merch.

			Once I got home, I listed the books on Amazon for ten cents less than everyone else, and they sold out overnight. Then I packed them up, shipped them out, and had a couple hundred bucks to pay my rent. In my mind at that time, I wasn’t doing anything wrong because I was stealing from corporations and not from people.

			#GIRLBOSS, this is where I call bullshit on myself. I was stealing from people. I took an inspiring quote from Chief Seattle (“But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? [. . .] If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?”) and twisted it to justify my own purposes. Nobody really owns anything, I thought. I had deep discussions about how I didn’t believe in “property.” It was the world—not my shoplifting—that was really messed up. In the words of another famous West Coast philosopher, Ice Cube, I needed to check myself before I wrecked myself. Unfortunately, it took a while before this happened.

			I stole anything—expensive wine, spirulina, once even a rug that, when rolled up, was taller than I was. I was constantly adding new techniques to my repertoire. There was left-handing, where you paid for one small, cheap thing with your right hand while holding something more expensive in your left hand that you didn’t pay for. No one’s watching the cash registers for shoplifters, and if someone stopped you on your way out, you could just pretend to be a total bimbo: “Oh, my God, what was I thinking? I’m so sorry; I wasn’t paying attention at all,” then hand whatever you were trying to steal right back. No cops, no fuss.

			Some of my schemes were more elaborate, like one I ran on a major art-supply chain after Mack and I had learned that their computer systems weren’t synced from store to store. Each time, I went in and got two sets of the most expensive oil pastels I could find. They usually ran about $100. I put one in my bag and then walked up to the register to pay cash for the other one. I was super-chatty while I was checking out, telling the person ringing me up that I was buying this for my mom’s birthday, but was nervous that my sister was getting her the same thing. Mind you, I don’t even have a sister, so I’m sure this one carved me out a special place in hell. Then I left with two pastel sets and one receipt.

			Five minutes later I walked back in acting flustered and found the same person who’d just checked me out, to whom I explained that my sister finally called me back, and sure enough, she got Mom the same thing! When I was asked for my receipt, I acted baffled. “I don’t know,” I said. “I thought it was in the bag?” This store’s policy was to refuse refunds without a receipt, but as I’d just been there and they remembered me, they always gave me back my $100 cash.

			Then I left the store and headed straight to another location to return the second pastel set, this time with my receipt, for $100 in cold hard cash. Like I said: a special place in hell.

			When I finally got caught, I was living in Portland, Oregon. I was at a large chain and had made my way around the store, filling my shopping cart until it was practically overflowing with stuff, having carefully picked the security sensors off each and every item before heading out the front door. The haul included a George Foreman grill, a basketball, fancy shower curtain rings, hair products, and tampons. I’m embarrassed to write this now and not because I’m the kind of person who’s embarrassed by tampons, but because getting caught stealing a box of OB is probably what we would all agree was a low point. This time, my walkout technique finally failed. As I pushed my cart of goodies across the parking lot to my parked car, a guy came running up and trotted beside me.

			“Hi,” he said.

			“Hi,” I said back, my heart pounding as it dawned on me that he was a loss-prevention employee, in place specifically to catch people doing exactly what I was in the process of doing.

			“Where are you going?”

			“Oh, you know, just back to my car.”

			“Actually, no, you’re not,” he said, “You’re going to come with me.”

			I panicked and pushed the shopping cart in front of him as I bolted to my car, but not before he grabbed my purse off my shoulder—and with it my entire wallet, complete with my driver’s license. I made it out of the parking lot and all the way home as I watched my outlaw lifestyle fade quickly into the distance.

			I was twenty years old and decided that a life of crime was not for me. In typical ballsy form, I drove back to the store, walked up to the customer service desk, and said, “I’d like to speak with your loss-prevention people. I just stole from you.” It was humbling and humiliating and a huge wake-up call. Fortunately, I got off easy. The store tallied up what I had stolen and fined me, which saved me from actually getting in trouble with the law.

			This part of my life was probably the ultimate low. I had an alcoholic boyfriend and I frequently found myself in trashy situations like this one. I thought to myself, This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me. Except that it did, and it was. I had always wanted to do something awesome, and instead I was just racking up a soap opera’s worth of skanky experiences. Getting caught stealing was the straw that broke the getaway camel’s back. I packed up my shit and drove my U-Haul-renting ass back to San Francisco, determined to do something legitimate and something brilliant. For a long time I kept the piece of paper that tallied up everything that had been in the shopping cart the day I got busted. It was a little reminder of how close I’d been to killing my inner #GIRLBOSS, and of how thankful I was that she lived.

Playing by the Rules. Or, at Least, Some of Them

			The only way to support a revolution is to make your own.

			—Abbie Hoffman

			After that, I stopped shoplifting cold turkey. It wasn’t like I ran right out and got a job pouring concrete, but I told myself that there would be no more shortcuts, no circumventing the rules. I was experimenting with lifestyles and philosophies that were supposedly “sustainable,” but as it turned out, they weren’t sustainable for me. I eventually came to terms with the fact that living free doesn’t always mean living well, and there are certain truths I had to reckon with. I was starting to realize that I liked and wanted nice things, and if stealing wasn’t going to enable me to get them, I was going to have to try something almost too conventional for me—getting another job.

			Being from the suburbs, I’d always equated comfort with ennui, and possessions with materialism, but I was beginning to learn that this wasn’t necessarily the case. Living a comfortable life can allow you the psychic space needed to focus on other, often bigger, things, and when you treat your possessions as emblems of your hard work, they inherit a meaning that transcends the objects themselves. Adulthood was a lot more nuanced than I had imagined it to be and by age twenty-one, I was already outgrowing the life I had thought I wanted. I knew that someday I would be thirty, and imagined that rooting through trash in search of a free bagel would likely not be so cute anymore. You heard it from me first: That Syd Barrett haircut and yesterday’s makeup won’t be cute forever!

			In my teens I saw the world in only black and white. Now I know that most things exist in a certain gray area. Though it took a while to get here, I now call this gray area home. I once believed that participating in a capitalist economy would be the death of me, but now realize that agonizing over the political implications of every move I make isn’t exactly living.

			Eventually, I got sick of listening to my friends whine about living in poverty while refusing to get a job. Compromise is just a part of life. We all, at some point, find ourselves either directly or indirectly supporting something we disagree with. There are ways to avoid this, but it generally includes eating roadkill and making tampons out of socks.

			I was never one for accepting convention at face value, but through (plenty of) trial and error I have made working hard, being polite, and being honest a choice. It’s as if I invented it! Rules surround all that we do, and no one, no matter how saintly she may seem, follows all of them. I choose to obey explicit rules—like, you know, paying for something before I leave the store—but the rules that society implies we follow, well, those are the rules I have the most fun breaking.

			I always dragged my feet over the mundane, little things in life. They made life seem like a big hamster wheel. I hated watching my money disappear each month when I paid the bills. I hated cleaning and doing laundry and having to stop to put gas in the car. And oh God, I hated taking out the trash. But if and when your hard work pays off, these things start to suck less. The first time I had enough savings to put my bills on auto pay it was like winning the lottery. Renting a house in Los Angeles with a backyard and my own washing machine was like being in a really happy musical (no, literally, I twirled and cried tears of joy when I moved in). Having someone to help keep my house clean makes me feel like I’m living in a fairy tale. Suddenly, you may find yourself with yesterday’s underwear clean and folded and the noise of that squeaky hamster wheel fading into the background.

			There’s still a part of me that remains from my days of living beyond the law, and that’s my desire to just mess with things. Life is unwritten, like a great big experiment. Why not see how long the red string of my imaginary kite can get? And why not let it whisk me up into the sky with it when my dreams start to become reality? For that, I think it’s worth putting up with making some compromises, and even playing by (some of) the rules.


			Alexi Wasser, IMBOYCRAZY.com (@imboycrazy)

			I started my bl