Cannes Lions: Sophia Amoruso on #Girlboss and Her Rags-to-Riches-to-Bankruptcy Tale

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Sophia Amoruso

The fashion industry pioneer spoke about bouncing back from the collapse of her Nasty Girl label, launching digital media firm #Girlboss and the importance of never taking no for an answer.

Community college dropout Sophia Amoruso lost most of her $280 million fortune when her first business, Nasty Gal, went belly-up in 2016.

It had an impact. "I still wake up every day afraid," she said at Cannes Lions Wednesday.

Now 34, she described her literal rags-to-riches-to-bankruptcy story as if she were still shell-shocked and weary.

"When something happens and you're the young founder who takes the heat, it fucks with your head," Amoruso said. "Nasty Gal could have been the end of me."

But it's a mistake to take Amoruso's wry self-deprecation and lack of airs as someone who feels remotely defeated.

Witness her decision five months after her company flopped to hold a women's empowerment rally that led to her burgeoning #Girlboss digital media company, with its website, podcast and events aimed at getting women ahead.

"How do you start over?" she asked. "You just get up and keep getting up. It's masochistic, and it's really hard and you don't know where you're going. You scrape together what you have until it's a sum larger than its parts."

Amoruso had a message for women like her without "pedigree" who want to "bootstrap" their way to the top: Embrace the word no. "'No' starts the conversation, 'no' is not no. 'No' is … watch me."

Her biggest 'no' came when her rough-and-tumble vintage clothing venture on eBay expanded rapidly into a website and brick-and-mortar stores. Amoruso, a media darling for her incredible success, suddenly found that she had no idea what she was doing.

"I'd never even worked in an office before," she admitted. "I'd just followed my nose and created a loyal customer base when I was starting out."

Amoruso said she feels "exhilarated" to take all the knowledge she gained the hard way with Nasty Gal and use it to better advantage with #Girlboss.

"It's great to not be stuck with the hangover and be able to move on and start fresh," she said.

She encouraged 20-something women to use all the online tools she never had back when she started Nasty Gal in 2006, and to "have a healthy sense of entitlement."

"It's best to overestimate your abilities," she said. "You make promises you have no idea how to keep. Grow into it. Anything online is like herding cats."

Also, never assume the successful entrepreneur has an edge that you don't.

"The way people get what they want is they do it," she said. "They don't have a genius gene. The difference between you and the people you want to be is they went and did it."