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Each half-hour episode of Netflix’s new comedy Girlboss begins with the following disclaimer: “What follows is a loose retelling of true events... Real loose.” That constant reminder is a crucial one: The show may be based on #Girlboss, the New York Times bestseller written by Nasty Gal’s founder and former CEO Sophia Amoruso, but it’s as stylized and surreal as the six-inch platform boots and lamé jumpsuits Nasty Gal stocks.
Ever since #Girlboss was published in May 2014, the real Nasty Gal has been plagued with problems. First came the allegations that Amoruso had shifted her efforts from the fashion company she built to promoting her best-selling memoir (and herself); former employees began leaving scathing reviews on Glassdoor. Then, in September 2014, the layoffs (and lawsuits) started.
Amoruso stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal in January 2015, funding for the company slowed, and even more employees were laid off. By November 2016, Nasty Gal had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; UK retailer Boohoo acquired the company this past February. Of course, none of this is depicted in season 1 of Girlboss, which focuses on Sophia (played by Britt Robertson) as she gets her start “flipping clothes” on eBay and, later, launches her own website. Should Girlboss get renewed for further seasons, it’ll be fascinating to see how — if at all — the show portrays Nasty Gal’s downfall.
As expected for a show executive-produced by the woman who inspired it, Girlboss paints a fairly flattering picture of Sophia overall. Brash and foulmouthed, the character is flawed — but the audience is clearly meant to root for her throughout, which sometimes feels problematic. Had Amoruso not been personally involved in the project, I wonder if the screenplay might’ve had a little more bite (for the better).
In the meantime, I’ve pored through every one of the first season’s 13 episodes and fact-checked the plot against Nasty Gal’s actual origin story, as told by Amoruso in #Girlboss and dozens of reported stories online. Below, a look at how everything matches up.
Sophia used to be a shoplifter.
True. In her memoir, Amoruso notes with “zero pride” that she used to steal everything from rugs to books, so it makes sense that Girlboss’s Sophia Marlowe steals everything from, well, rugs to books. Both Sophias have also dumpster-dived for bagels.
Sophia worked as a Subway “sandwich artist” and campus safety host at an art university before launching her eBay store.
True and true; and yes, she really did take the latter gig for the health insurance so she could have a hernia removed. But at the real-life Academy of Art University, I doubt Amoruso ever had a boss as delightful as Rick (Norm Macdonald), who steals every scene he’s in.
Sophia dressed in head-to-toe ‘70s vintage long before launching her store.
True — and to get the look just right, Amoruso invited Girlboss costume designer Audrey Fisher into her own closet. “I deliberately winked at real Sophia with many costume pieces for the character, all [of which paid] homage to her look IRL,” Fisher says. “Her grandmother’s Greek Orthodox silver cross, since Sophia wore that necklace proudly and often back in the day; dozens of brutalist and ‘70s vintage silver rings, as she always had an eclectic mix on each hand; the sleek denim jumpsuit; a turquoise baby cord bomber that I copied right from one of [Amoruso’s] Polaroids; the sexy red denim ‘70s jeans that Britt struts around in at the beginning of the show; a Victorian lace blouse that mirrored a similar piece in Sophia’s closet; a rhinestone-encrusted denim shirt inspired by a recent Instagram of [Amoruso] — those are a few of my favorite examples.”
The first item Sophia ever sold on eBay was a vintage leather jacket she bought for nine dollars and sold for over $600.
False. According to her book and multiple interviews she’s given over the years, the first item Amoruso actually sold on eBay was a stolen book (although, to be fair, Sophia does shoplift a copy of Starting an eBay Business for Dummies in one early scene).
“That scene was written very specifically, and as I understood, it is a fictionalized version of one of Sophia [Amoruso]’s experiences,” Fisher says, noting that show creator Kay Cannon’s script called for an East West moto jacket. “In order to honor her vision, I went on a quest. I checked with all the vendors in town who deal in ‘70s leathers, turned to eBay, and finally found that metallic beauty at vintage dealer Brian Cohen’s exquisite atelier in Hollywood.” Fisher calls the jacket “the most significant costume of the show,” as it “embodies both Sophia’s magic and moxie.”
Much of Nasty Gal Vintage’s early inventory came from local estate sales and thrift stores.
True. We even see her buying a “carload of vintage” from an out-of-business theater company, a direct anecdote from #Girlboss. Sadly, we do not get to see Sophia uncover two Chanel jackets at a thrift store, buy them for $8 apiece, and sell them for over $1,500, another prime bit from the book.
Nasty Gal’s first press came from the now-defunct lifestyle newsletter DailyCandy.
True. However, that DailyCandy writeup came in July 2008, after Amoruso had launched Nasty Gal’s website — not in June 2007, when she was still selling on eBay.
Sophia once rushed from San Francisco to Marin County to deliver a vintage wedding dress to a customer in time for her walk down the aisle.
False — at least, Amoruso has never publicly shared a similar story before. But Girlboss works best when it steps away from its source material and incorporates an imaginary plotline or two, and Sophia’s mad dash to deliver this dress makes for one of the show’s strongest episodes.
And fun fact: The dress shown in the episode wasn’t actually a vintage find, but rather a ‘30-style piece by designer Sue Wong, which Fisher bought in multiples. “Because of [production] requirements, we couldn’t actually use a singular and delicate vintage gown,” Fisher says. “It’s not practical to use, for instance, an actual vintage gown that might disintegrate during the first take!”
Early on, Sophia leaned heavily on MySpace to promote Nasty Gal.
True — and yes, Amoruso actually “bought a bot,” i.e., used illegal friend-adding software to increase Nasty Gal’s reach. (No word on whether her real-life BFF’s feelings were hurt when Amoruso bumped her out of her Top 8 to make room for Marc Jacobs.)
Back in her eBay days, Sophia angered her fellow vintage sellers, who took issue with her high prices and focus on ’80s styles.
True. “On the whole, [eBay] was a pretty catty environment,” Amoruso writes in #Girlboss. “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. 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.”
Indeed, the show’s 10th (and best) episode revolves around a vintage fan forum where other sellers are taking aim at Sophia’s business practices. Jokes about GIFs and internet trolls are involved, and it’s a real hoot.
Sophia’s first official employee was her best friend Annie.
False. Amoruso’s actual first hire was Christina Ferrucci, whom she brought on in 2008, shortly after launching the Nasty Gal website. Although Annie could be based in part on Ferrucci, Amoruso hired her first employee off of Craigslist, not friendship. Ferrucci wound up staying at Nasty Gal for over six years, eventually becoming the company’s buying director before leaving at the end of 2014; some say she was laid off, in fact.
Also false: Sophia didn’t bring on a site designer for Nasty Gal at the start; according to #Girlboss, Amoruso asked a middle school friend (who happened to be a developer) for programming help, and did the site’s graphic design herself.
Sophia’s eBay account was eventually suspended after she started promoting her own website, Nasty Gal Vintage, on her various listings.
True — although whether other eBay sellers teamed up to report her, as they do in the show, is unclear.
Interestingly, in her book, Amoruso claims that she was “already planning to leave eBay” and launch her own site at the time she was suspended; in the show, Sophia is blindsided by her suspension, and it takes longer for her to put her plan in action.
Sophia struggled to keep Nasty Gal’s inventory unique, since rival retailers were selling knockoffs of her vintage originals.
Maybe. Amoruso has never publicly confirmed this, but knowing how many brands take inspiration from vintage designs, we can probably assume it’s at least partly true. However, consider the fact that Nasty Gal’s also been accused of copying (multiple times, in fact).
The real reason why Sophia built Nasty Gal without any debt? She had terrible credit and couldn’t get a credit card or business loan.
True. In the show, while struggling to secure an office space lease, Sophia even blames it on a Victoria’s Secret credit card she opened and then never paid off; Amoruso shares that same story in #Girlboss.
True, obviously. Amoruso did eventually buy the other domain, though.
Girlboss premieres on Netflix on Friday, April 21st.