I watched part of #Girlboss on Netflix so you wouldn’t have to. Yes, that does make me a martyr to the cause.
This thirteen episode series on Netflix is more about the vintage clothing industry than it is about old clothes. In particular, it addresses the big changes that occurred in the vintage market starting around 2005. It is the story of one vintage seller, Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal Vintage, who turned her ebay store into a major e-commerce site selling trendy new ready-to-wear. The story is a mix of fiction and the truth as Amoruso wrote it in her 2015 book, #Girlboss.
I have not read #Girlboss, and I only started watching the series after reading a discussion of the series in a facebook group of vintage clothing sellers. It seemed as if Amoruso was telling her version of why she got kicked off ebay in 2007, and it did not jibe with my own remembrance of the events.
This is not the first bad review #Girlboss has received. Many of them focus on the main character, a fictionalized version of Amoruso, and her complete depiction as a “garbage person”. She steals, she lies, she takes advantage of her few friends. She has no redeeming qualities at all. But in spite of her complete lack of character, I found myself not even caring. Is it because we as a society have become so used to narcissistic, despicable people who are only interested in what benefits them? Something to think about.
So I found myself skipping several episodes. I was, after all, only in it for the vintage. So Sophia floundered around, looking for direction when she sold a few things on ebay. She quickly realized there was a buck or two to be made, so she started studying the sellers who were the most successful.
This came at a time when eBay was changing rapidly. I first started using eBay to buy vintage around 1998. For several years I could come home from work, sit with a cup of coffee, and go through all the new vintage clothing listings in about thirty minutes. By 2006, when this story starts, that was no longer possible. The category had grown, sub-categories were put in place, and eBay started community chat boards, including one for vintage clothing.
Until around 2005, most vintage sellers were were experienced dealers who had been in the business for years. Many owned brick and mortar stores. Prices were good for both buyer and seller. And most buyers seem to have been interested just in the wearing or collecting of vintage clothing. Then, some very smart young women realized that by selling old clothes as fashion, they could make a lot of money. Styling and tall, thin models replaced hanging mannequins and clothes spread out on the floor for photos. Overnight the game had totally changed.
Sophia found she was very good at this game, which often involved taking thrift store finds, many of them from the late 1970s and the 1980s, and cutting them up to make them more in tune with the styles of 2006. By this time, the cutting up of old clothing had come to the attention of other sellers, and it was being discussed freely on the Ebay Vintage Clothing discussion board. Most of the comments were critical, though there were defenders of the practice. I was of the opinion, which I stated several times on the board, that cutting up 1970s JC Penney polyester dresses designed for someone’s grandma was not a big deal, but that from what I could tell, some of the scissors-happy sellers seemed to have no experience with clothing, and so the possibility of valuable or historically important pieces getting ruined was high.
Amazingly, there is quite a bit in #Girlboss about this criticism. In one episode, another seller, one of the “protectors of vintage” traveled to Sophia’s apartment to shame her for the practice of destroying old clothes. By the end of the episode, Sophia and the other seller seemed to have bonded, and the other woman gives Sophia a treasured dress,which turns up on Nasty Gal Vintage, chopped up beyond recognition.
I’m pretty sure that never happened, and was just written for the Netflix series. I think this episode is a metaphor for the online criticism Sophia was getting for her slash and trash selling tactics. But it does continue with the on-going “feud” between Sophia and her eBay haters. Probably the most imaginative thing in the entire series is the episode shown above, showing the Vintage Fashion Forum as people in a dark space, talking around a circle as though they were speaking through their computers, bashing NastyGal for cutting up the vintage. Occasionally NastyGal shows up, along with her friend, who is acting as a white knight.
The portrayal of the other vintage sellers is pretty funny, and I’m thinking that is probably how the young and smug Sophia really viewed the people on the forum. Or rather, how she wanted them to be. All are seriously up-tight, dowdy, and socially inept.
But they get their revenge by getting Sophia kicked off eBay for having external links to her MySpace (2006!) page in her item listings. From what I’ve read, this is also what Amoruso tells in her book, but although this was against the rules, I really do not think it was enough to get a person kicked off the site, especially one who was making so much money for eBay.
The was another, and much more serious discussion about NastyGal and some of the other newer sellers – that of shill bidding. Before Ebay tightened up its rules and procedures, one could have any number of bidding ids. And bids were shown by bidder on the sales page. Some people on the Ebay Vintage board were actively following all the auctions of those suspected of bidding on their own auctions.
I do not have personal knowledge of why she was kicked off, but there were lots of complaints, and people were investigating the alleged shilling and reporting it to ebay. But while she bragged about the petty shoplifting in her book and in the program, shilling is a serious matter, which may be why she glossed over that part of the story. She did deny that she ever shilled on eBay in a 2014 interview.
It looked as if Amoruso had the last laugh though. She went on to start NastyGal.com and she made a fortune. In 2014 Forbes estimated her personal worth as $280 million. But it wasn’t to last. In 2015 the company began to implode, and at the end of 2016, Nasty Gal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company was purchased at a discount, and Amoruso was out. She’s now started a new company, Girlboss, which, according to the site is “connecting smart women through content, community, and experiences.”
Photos copyright Netflix.