- Many shoppers remember Nasty Gal from its days under the “girl boss” Sophia Amoruso.
- But under the fast-fashion firm Boohoo Group, signs point to the brand being not what it once was.
- Shoppers have accused the company of poor-quality products and advertising fake sales.
The shoes were normally $60, but now they were on sale. It was 2019, and a shopper named Olivia Lee says she’d been lured by the promotion on NastyGal.com, advertising that every item on the site was 60% off.
Lee settled on a white platform style called the “Before They Make Me Run Chunky Sneaker” and went ahead with the purchase.
In the following weeks and months, Nasty Gal would continue to advertise that all of its clothes were somewhere between 40 and 60% off, if not more, depending on the day. The sale outlasted that year’s impeachment of then-President Donald Trump and then continued the following year, through the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and eventual development of a vaccine.
November 2021 marks two years since Olivia Lee bought her shoes for $34, and a banner on Nasty Gal’s US website advertises “60% off Everything” with the tagline “It’s now or never.” That includes the “Before They Make Me Run Chunky Sneaker,” which is still listed as originally being $60 but retailing for $24.
Lee is suing Nasty Gal in federal court, alleging its parent company is inflating the value of its clothing to unsuspecting online shoppers.
“Nasty Gal’s ‘sale’ is not really a sale at all. It is a scam,” reads the suit, which is seeking class certification for all people in the United States who purchased anything from Nasty Gal after 2017 — the year after the once-respected LA clothing brand declared bankruptcy and was then purchased by British fast-fashion company Boohoo Group.
Though she went further than most in seeking redemption, Lee is not the only dissatisfied Nasty Gal shopper. As the fast-fashion industry explodes in popularity thanks to social media and targeted advertising, a growing number of companies are cashing in on well-known names that were on the brink of bankruptcy and attracting customers who remember the old brand.
“It’s an actual business model that has developed in the past few years,” David Brown, a retail consultant with the firm Alvarez & Marsal, told Insider. Numerous companies, he said, “have figured out that you can take brands that have either declined to a point or have gone bankrupt, and there are some inherent values still left.”
But consumers who haven’t followed the ownership changes might be disappointed to find that the brand they remembered has little in common with the new brand using its name and logo — a zombie brand, in other words.
The rise of ultra-fast fashion and cancellation of Nasty Gal
Boohoo Group was founded in 2006 by Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane, British wholesalers who primarily did business with mall brands like Topshop. The pair then decided they could make more money if they cut out the middleman. In doing so, they pioneered what’s now known as “ultra-fast fashion,” in which clothes seen on celebrities are replicated in factories and sold online within weeks.
Boohoo Group’s brands include PrettyLittleThing, which has partnered with the Kardashians and other stars, Oasis and Warehouse Group, Karen Millen, and Debenhams, all of which were respected British fashion brands facing bankruptcy, much like Nasty Gal.
A spokesperson for Boohoo Group told Insider that post-2017 Nasty Gal is “a hugely different brand.”
The original Nasty Gal founded by the self-proclaimed “girl boss” Sophia Amoruso started as a one-woman vintage-clothing seller on eBay and later expanded into an online retailer that sold moderately priced clothing labels with the same vintage look. By 2015, the company was at the height of its success, with tons of positive press and $100 million in revenue. (Somewhat ironically, older Nasty Gal clothes can now be found for sale on Etsy and eBay.) Amoruso’s 2014 autobiography about her rise to success was turned into a
But then Amoruso’s employees came forward saying that the brand’s feminist message was at odds with how it treated workers. Four women sued the company, alleging that they’d been fired from Nasty Gal for getting pregnant. A fifth worker also alleged she’d been fired after undergoing a heart transplant.
There were several rounds of layoffs and suppliers who said they hadn’t been paid. Officially, the company denied the workers’ allegations, but Amoruso eventually acknowledged that under her leadership, the brand had grown faster than she could handle and had mismanaged millions in venture-capital funding. (Amoruso now works as a public-relations consultant and did not respond to several interview requests).
Nasty Gal declared bankruptcy in 2016, marking the start of a backlash to girl-boss feminism — and what many people assumed was the end of Nasty Gal.
But under Boohoo Group, Nasty Gal lives on.
Underpaid garment workers and a slew of negative reviews
Last year, an investigative report by The Sunday Times of London said that a factory that supplies much of Boohoo Group’s clothes paid workers only about 3.50 pounds (the equivalent of about $4.40 at the time) an hour. Boohoo Group vowed to audit its supply chain amid backlash.
Separately, a report by the advocacy group the Changing Markets Foundation accused Boohoo Group and other ultra-fast-fashion brands of contributing to the climate crisis. The report said that 85% percent of Boohoo Group’s clothes contained synthetic fibers, which are produced from fossil fuels and last longer in landfills than natural fibers. (Synthetic fibers are also the reason many cheap clothes come with warning tags to keep away from fire).
Consumers have also complained that the clothes don’t hold up. In one video review in 2019, a Cosmopolitan fashion editor who’d paid $218 on a Nasty Gal order for the publication noticed that her boots looked to her as if they’d been worn before, her dress arrived with strange markings on it and had a flammability warning, and her jacket wouldn’t stop shedding pieces of fuzz.
Some reviews online have complained that Nasty Gal’s clothing appeared cheap or that customer service was unhelpful when the company sent the wrong items. Reviews complaining that clothes seemed to have been already worn also aren’t hard to find. Several reviews said pants arrived with visible bodily fluid in the crotch area.
“We have hygiene policies and procedure in place to try and avoid situations such as this, but on any occasion where an item is received that is not in perfect condition we work with the customer to resolve that issue as quickly as we can,” the press team for Boohoo Group wrote to Insider.
The press team for the Boohoo Group also defended fast fashion as a concept.
“I challenge the negative connotations that come with the words ‘fast fashion,'” the Boohoo Group said in an emailed statement. “Nasty Gal is actually on a huge path to push forward its sustainable product offering and by the end of this financial year approximately 20% of our product will be sustainably produced, this will grow further each year.”
Addressing quality-control issues, the statement added: “We take customer complaints very seriously and will always look into any customer concerns around quality on a case-by-case basis.”
The power of influencer marketing
As it turns out, accusations of human-rights abuses and other bad press is no match for the power of influencers — saleswise, the new Nasty Gal is doing better than ever.
Nasty Gal and Boohoo Group have reportedly spent millions on social-media and influencer campaigns. The company saw a 106% increase in new business in 2020, or roughly $120 million in revenue, according to its annual report.
“From our knowledge of the previous ownership’s financial results, we have far surpassed their highest level of turnover. We did this after 18 months of trading, which is an incredible achievement,” Boohoo Group’s spokesperson told Insider.
According to Brown, social media and targeted advertising have paved the way for microsegmentation in the fashion industry, leading to a proliferation of brands and “a lot of dormant names out there that can either be licensed or revived.”
Lee’s suit alleges that Nasty Gal is also using fake price points to increase its sales. Sale prices vary depending on what day it is and what country the Nasty Gal site is accessed from, but the suit says that clothes are typically advertised as being between 40-60% discounted. In a statement to Insider, Lee’s attorney Ahmed Ibrahim argued that endlessly marketing products as on sale is deceptive and violates US advertising laws. “You can’t just lie about your original prices just to falsely inflate the value of your products,” he said. (Boohoo Group made an unsuccessful motion to have the suit dismissed and said it doesn’t comment on active litigation.)
In its answer to Lee’s complaint, Boohoo denied Lee’s allegations about, among other things, using fake price points. Boohoo Group said that its promotions “change daily depending on stock inventory, seasonality, etc.” But asked for a specific date that the sale would end, the Boohoo Group declined to provide an answer.