Book review: #Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 4:08pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 4:08pm

by Sophia Amoruso
Portfolio & Putnam
3.5 stars

Tessa Chan

Sophia Amoruso is labelled a "problem child" from an early age - her first artistic expression is smearing poop on the walls of her kindergarten. As a child she's diagnosed with Tourette's, ADD and depression, and by the time she's a teenager she's prescribed a series of pills - none of which work. Instead, she decides to drop out of school and begins a period of hitch-hiking, drug taking and eating from dumpsters. Meanwhile, her parents, it seems, are too busy getting divorced to help.

#Girlboss is her vivid account of how she evolves from teenage misfit to CEO of US$100 million online fashion retailer Nasty Gal. It's largely thanks to a rather serendipitous hernia she develops from wearing tight pants; this makes her realise her need for health insurance and therefore a job. She gets one checking IDs in an art school lobby, finds she has way too much time on her hands and begins to sell vintage clothes on eBay. She channels her OCD energies into gathering MySpace friends who, when she gets kicked off eBay by "catty" competing vendors, she takes with her to the new Nasty Gal website.

And so begins her journey from teenage rebellion to the world of capitalism. Before long, Amoruso has gone from thinking HR stands for either "high rise" jeans or the lead singer of Bad Brains, to having her own human resources department, 350 employees and being profiled in Forbes; from shoplifting Michael Kors to sitting in a boardroom with him. She insists, however, that hers is not a rags-to-riches fairy story. It took a lot of hard work.

The book is full of "girl power" quotes, career and entrepreneurial advice dished out in sound bites, and includes mini profiles of other "#Girlbosses". Her insights are not rocket science but hers is a welcome new voice, with a self-deprecating sense of humour. And while the rather gimmicky title - presumably another effort to bolster her already sizeable social media following - will alienate most potential male readers, she rejects the idea that it's a feminist book.

She also delivers a refreshingly frank portrayal of her own generation, which she describes as entitled "internet kids", used to having everything just one click away. Fellow millennials will find some useful, albeit blunt advice in the chapter, "You are not a special snowflake".

Most importantly though, her message to youth is that it doesn't matter if you don't fit in. She even quotes early anarchist Emma Goldman: "People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take." Having been an outsider from the start, leaping from one uninspiring job to another, Amoruso is the perfect modern anti-heroine, finding opportunity in her failures.

This is a useful read for any young aspiring entrepreneur, especially in Hong Kong where we could do with a dose of anarchy, risk-taking and individual thinking.