The fall of Nasty Gal and why slow growth is the key to lasting success.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of Nasty Gal vintage?  In 2011 Sophia Amoruso started a little vintage shop on Ebay and it grew like wildfire.  I remember watching her success in awe as I was also running my first vintage shop back then.  While my shop was steadily puttering along hers was taking off like a concord jet. I was blown away by how quickly she rose from a San Francisco hipster slang-ing old clothes to the Girl Boss she would come to be known as. 

In the beginning her fan base, like mine, was small and dedicated. She had a five star rating and regularly interacted with her fans on social media but within a few short years Nasty Gal would become a multi million dollar business and land Sophia on Forbes richest women list.  Even though we had started in the same place, she had grown so much faster.  I was in awe (and a little jealous) of her rapid success but I failed to realize at the time that lighting fast growth can be a double edged sword.  When a tree grows too quickly it does not set down strong roots.  Those are the trees that are often fall when strong winds blow. 

As Nasty Gal exploded in popularity, product quality started to decline.  Sophia stopped picking vintage herself and hired a team to do it for her.  The company also began selling mass produced fast fashion that customers would often complain of the quality, or lack thereof.

 The last time I looked at the reviews I was horrified, it was not the business I had once looked to for inspiration, it had become a monster.  Recently the company went bankrupt.  Luckily Sophia was able to get out with a cool 20 million, but considering the fact that the business had once been valued at over 200 million, it’s kind of a sad ending.  

I’m not trying to slam on Sophia, I surely would not have done any better if given a rocket ship to success in my early 20s. What she did is still so inspiring to any of us vintage sellers out there. But I do look to this story when I get down on my shop for growing so slowly. In many cases slow and steady growth can actually be a blessing in disguise.

It costs four times more to gain a new customer than it does to keep a customer you already have so wouldn’t it make sense to nurture our small customer base first and foremost?  So often I see other businesses like Nasty Gal rise to huge levels of popularity and stop being the brand that earned them that popularity in the first place. 

Even as I grow, I hope to never forget where I started from. There are a few core values that make my business what it is and are things I would never be willing to compromise on for growth.  I would never put out poor quality products to make a quick buck.  I would never exploit underpaid workers to make my products.  And I will never knowingly do something to make a customer feel small or unimportant.  As your business grows I encourage you to ask yourself some key questions;  What matters to you? What do you refuse to compromise on as a brand? And how can you make the customer base you do have feel valued? Growing slowly will allow you to hold on tight to these values as you come into your own.

I’m still in the dawn of my business and can just now see the sun peeking over the horizon.   My shop is still just a sweet little baby that I get to feed and love and nurture.  I haven’t been swept away in the chaos of success and so I get to define every day who I am and show up authentically.

Would I trade my little baby business for Sophia’s 20 million dollars? Maybe, in a moment of weakness I would, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still grateful to be where I am.

If you’re just starting out and slow days have you feeling down, remember, you’re putting down those thick strong roots. Spend time nurturing the relationships you are building one at a time. Be generous with people and give 100% of yourself to whatever audience you currently have, even if its just 10 face book friends and your mom, businesses have grown from less. Show up everyday from a place of integrity and watch that business slowly and purposefully grow into something that will stand up against even the strongest winds.

Three core qualities to cultivate 1000 true fans and why you don’t need to be an influencer to have an online business.

I just hit 1000 fans in my Etsy shop and wrote this post to celebrate (woo hoo!) I know a thousand fans may seem small to some but for me it is a milestone moment, and one that I have been striving for ever since I first discovered the concept that started in a blog post by Kevin Kelly. Have you heard the concept of 1000 true fans?  It completely blew my mind and sparked a major “maybe I can actually pull this off” moment. Hearing this concept unpacked by Tim Ferris on a podcast episode was the first time my dreams felt kinda-sorta achievable.

Still, undoing a lifetime of self doubt and negative talk doesn’t just happen overnight.  I have days where I stumble across the IG account that kind of looks like mine but with way more followers and think “I’m never going to get there.” I struggled so much to get my first 100 IG followers, the thought of replicating that a thousand times can seem impossible. Luckily I’ve finally realized I don’t need to replicate anyone else’s success, I just need to show up for my people with authenticity, empathy and consistency and the growth will happen.

Now, whenever I come down with a case of the comparisonitis, I circle back to the 1000 true fans concept.  When I finally realized I didn’t need to chase the vanity metrics of a huge following it was like finding an oasis in the desert. Think of it this way; if you can find 1000 people who are annually willing to exchange $100 of their hard earned cash for something that you offer, you’re making a six figure income. It’s literally that simple, but there is one small caveat.  Those thousand can’t just be luke-warm fans. They’ve got to be boiling hot,  full-blown obsessed with your products and more importantly, who you are as a human.  They’ve got to be stalking your feed, signed up for your email list and waiting for your next product drop with credit card in hand.  There will always be the next new thing and the luke-warmers will eventually find it.  This is why so many businesses fail.  They get caught up in the cultivation of new fans and forget to take care of the ones they already have. Having 1000 full blown fans is better that having 10 000 luke warm fans any day and feels much more achievable.

So how do you go about cultivating your tribe of 1000? The qualities that have helped me build my 1000 etsy fans and that I’m sure will eventually help me build my first 1000 IG fans are; authenticity, empathy and consistency. These core qualities never fail to make me a total fan girl of the brands I follow and I believe everyone should implement them to level up in business and in life.

Seems simple enough right? So lets unpack these qualities a little more…

Authenticity

Authenticity represents a brands true voice and the way they show up to the world. It means being unapologetically you and is the main thing that will immediately distinguish a brand from others.  In order to be authentic, it is crucial to define the things that you stand for and reject all the things that you don’t.  If a brand aligns itself with animal welfare and then releases a line of fur coats they are no longer authentic and would most certainly get an unfollow from me.  Authenticity also comes from being honest in the way you show up and interact with others.  It’s so much easier to maintain consistent branding when you stop worrying about what other people are thinking and just be true to you.  Most humans have a pretty good b.s. meter, if you’re trying too hard to be something that you’re not, people will pick up on it. Own who you are, be passionate about the things that matter to you and the cultivation of your thousand(s) will feel effortless.

Empathy

Empathy is putting yourself in other peoples shoes.  As consumers we are always asking the question “what’s in it for me?” but as businesses we should be asking the inverse. When we stumble across a brand that has identified our deepest problem and offers us a solution to it, it becomes a no brainer.  We hit that like/follow/subscribe button and eventually become true fans.  To be fully empathetic we must identify the problem our customers are trying to solve in their lives.  What are they googling, what are they dreaming about and what is keeping them up at night?  The best way to do this organically is by interacting with the customers you already do have.  Ask them questions, respond to your comments and DM’s, make every single person who already follows you feel seen and heard.  If you only have 50 followers, show up for those 50 followers from a place of radical empathy and you will be amazed by how quickly that 50 will grow.  You also can also ask yourself, “what is the thing you wish the you from 5 years ago knew or had”?  If you can solve a problem for yourself, chances are you will be solving a problem for someone else too.

Consistency

When I decide to become a fan girl I like to know what I’m getting myself into.  If you are holistic health guru promoting body positivity and then show up one day with a massive boob job, sorry but I’m out. I’m all for women doing what they want with their bodies but I expect some consistency in the brands that I follow.  It’s also important to be consistent with your workflow, if you promise to drop a collection this weekend, make sure your collection is set to drop that weekend! I once subscribed to a podcast that was so good but would often go months between episodes.  Their content won me over immediately and at one point I was ready to become a raging fan but after months of no episodes have lost interest. When a brand doesn’t show up with consistency it sends a message that they don’t really care and their followers stop caring too.

 When I first discovered this concept a fire was lit within me and hope it will do the same for you. It’s important to have big goals but breaking them down into actionable steps is the number one key to achievement.  For so long I had been looking to the vanity metrics of others as a barometer of success when I should have just been worried about my own biz.  I had been dreaming of that six figure number when I should have been laser focused on cultivating a quality thousand first.

Inevitably, something magical will happen once you find your tribe of 1000.  People talk, word spreads and those core thousand are going to tell their people.  Every single person I know has heard about the ‘Don’t Keep Your Day Job Podcast’ and many of them have gone on to become raving fans as well. This is how brands end up growing huge followings, not by being everything to everyone all at once but through radical empathy, authenticity and consistency one true fan at a time. 

http://www.instagram.com/shop.lesage

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Don’t trade perfection for progress ~ perfection is unachievable and progress only comes with imperfect action.

The first thing I ever sewed looked like a grade two craft project.  The first thing I ever cooked tasted like burned garbage.  The first thing I ever wrote was a poem about Kurt Cobain (and it was bad).  The first person I ever dated was a certifiable f**k boy.  The first haircut I ever gave was a disaster. The first bleach out I ever did was with actual kitchen bleach (sorry Amanda). 

Nothing I have ever become good at was an automatic win.  Nothing.  And if we’re truly honest with ourselves we will see that is a common thread in the human experience.  Any craft takes time to perfect, we’ve got to make a few bad choices to figure out the right ones (hello my entire high school experience).  Even people who are born with immense confidence in their abilities probably look back on their earliest work and cringe.  And that’s how it should be.  What are we here on earth for if not to grow and learn?  

Humans are social creatures, we long to be accepted by our peers and the human condition is often to reject that which is not familiar.  This is why we look to the doctor, lawyer and corporate exec as barometers of success.  They fit into a format that is easily identifiable, replicable and proven.  They don’t even have to be good at what they do, just the fact that they have obtained that position is enough.   There is a safety that comes from choosing a path that our peers approve of, but we can’t all be doctors lawyers and corporate execs.  If we were, our world would be lacking…we need artists, entrepreneurs and visionaries. 

The path of the artist is often paved with self doubt.  So many people, myself included, can become so paralyzed by the fear of failure that we fail to take any action at all.  We are already so far out there forging our own paths, how scary it can feel to do anything that may draw even more attention to our radical selves.   Rather than risk looking stupid or making something bad, we stay in our lanes and remain consistently mediocre. We use all the pretty crayons but are careful to color in the lines.   

I acknowledge that it can be terrifying to embrace failure.  We don’t want to end up with pie on our face (and an empty bank account) but maybe our journey as artists depends on taking those risks.  Maybe taking a pie to the face every now and then is just what we need to keep us moving forwards. 

I have friends who have put off starting their business for months because their logo wasn’t perfect. Ask yourself this, have you ever been about to buy something online and stopped because the logo wasn’t to your taste? We let ourselves get so hung up on insignificant details that we fail to take any action at all. If there is one thing I have learned in my 35 years, its that the greatest breakthroughs always come on the heels of the most epic failures. Hindsight is 20/20 and we can gain the most clarity by looking back on our flops, pivoting and strategically moving forwards.  Use that shitty logo, you can always change it down the line.

We must stop trading perfection for progress, perfection is an illusion that none of us will ever achieve and progress is a reward for those of us who allow ourselves the indulgence of failure. If we are not cringing at our earlier work, then we are simply not progressing in our craft. For some people, the predictability that comes with mediocracy is enough, but if you’re reading this, and if its resonating with you, you are probably not one of those people.  You probably feel in your soul that you are destined for more and you thirst for it like water. 

Ask yourself this question today.  What is the one thing you would like to do but you’re hesitating on because it’s not yet perfect.  Maybe its hitting publish on a blog post, maybe it’s reaching out to an influencer, launching a giveaway or starting a podcast (me!).  Now ask yourself, what is the worst thing that will happen if you do it?  Will you die?  Will other people die?  If the answer is no then you have the all clear for take off. 

Feel all the fear, self doubt and apprehension, wallow in it for a minute or two, and then go for it.  If you end up with pie on your face clean yourself up and be grateful for the free meal.   

http://www.instagram.com/shop.lesage

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

To thine own self be true ~ in order to stop trying to please everyone else, here’s the one question you need to ask yourself.

Years ago I ran an online vintage shop called onefortynine vintage, maybe you’ve even heard of it?  It grew quickly, scored some influencer/celeb clients and made me enough money to buy a modest house and stop living paycheck to paycheck.  My shop was born at a time when very few people were selling vintage online and so it became a big (or at least a medium sized) fish in a small sea.  But as more and more vintage shops opened around me, mine slowly dissolved into obscurity, and looking back now I can see exactly why.  I had tried to make my shop something for everyone else and that was my downfall.

When out picking, I would grab whatever I thought someone else would like. My collections would look like a rummage sale pile; leopard pants, gunne sax dress, 50s gown, silver lame’ shirt, 90s space boots, it was a crazy beautiful mess, and could have been amazing if that was actually my aesthetic, but it wasn’t.  My basement was filled with inventory that I would never even wear and my sales began to slow to a trickle.

I would post outfits to IG and immediately get unfollows.  It was a constant sinking feeling of what was I doing wrong? In fear, I stopped using ‘the gram’ altogether and missed out on some of the best years of organic growth.  Looking back its clear that the people who had followed me for my 50s dresses weren’t there for my 80s pantsuits, and people shopping for 90s athletic gear wanted no part of the boho pieces I would drop.  Rather than unapologetically just showing up as who I was and offering clothes that I loved regardless of the follows, I was constantly chasing my tail.  My brand had no identity and stood for nothing. 

Today, as consumers, we are blessed with so much choice.  (Almost) anything we want can be ours at the click of a button.  So naturally we’re becoming pickier about the brands we chose to buy from.  Not only do we want a clear aesthetic, we want our brands to stand for something.  This is why big name retailers seem to be loosing their footing while small fashion labels are rising up out of no where and becoming giants in their own right.

Can you imagine if a gluten free bakery chose to occasionally sell cakes made with conventional flour? Not only would they lose a whole lot of celiac customers, the people who eat wheat would probably not even go there to begin with.  They are at the bakery down the road specializing in chocolate, or LGBT baking, or cakes shaped like celebrity faces.  There is so much choice for the modern consumer that trying to be something to everyone will just make you nothing to no one.  The riches truly are in the niches. 

Now, I unapologetically stock my shop with lots of earth tones and neutrals, there is very rarely a print to be found, and I choose natural fabrics as much as possible.  I’ll often pass on great pieces if the fabric is bad because synthetic fabrics are terrible for the environment and being eco-friendly is something I stand for both as a consumer, and as a brand.

My growth has been slow but steady and completely authentic.  Many of my customers come back to order more and I’m building lasting relationships with those beautiful humans.  I completely refuse to play the follow/unfollow game as I can’t imagine a less authentic use of my time.  If people want to stay updated on my offerings, amazing, if not, buh-bye!  I now view every unfollow as a blessing, one less person in my space who doesn’t want to be there is a good thing and it helps me show up even more authentically for those who do.

I know my shop is not for everyone and I’m ok with that.  Its actually way less pressure on me and I loooove what I do because it is so authentically me. 

How about you? Have you ever struggled to grow or found your growth stalling? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by trying to capture too wide of an audience or are you trying to create a product with everyone in mind? Do you feel like you’re trying to do too many things so that you can provide an offering to everyone?  If you are struggling to niche down your own business I suggest first and foremost asking yourself this question:

Who are YOU as a person?

Deep down in the very fibers of your being, what makes you tick? Who is inside of that skin suit working the controls? A lot of people will tell you to design your ideal avatar (shes a mom, with three kids, and a parrot and she takes salsa lessons etc.) This can be a useful exercise for established entrepreneurs, but I think it can be too broad for someone just starting out or stalling out.  The most authentic way to design your avatar is to use yourself as a mood board.  You know yourself better than anyone, you can dig really deep and understand the way you think, the way you feel and the way you spend your hard earned cash.

Dig deep…

What turns you on and what turns you off?

What are your favorite colors?

What are the last 5 things you have bought for yourself?

What is your dream house and where?

What are your values, at your very core?

What are your hopes, dreams and goals?

How do you want to show up for the world?

What are your ultimate deal breakers?

What makes you smile?

Imagine yourself as your ideal customer and you will find the ability to be so empathic that it would be impossible not to build a brand that has an authentic voice.  Be true to yourself first and let the chips fall as they may.  Your brand may be small but it will be mighty.  You will serve the people you were designed to serve and you will be able to do so with such impact and authenticity that you will not easily be forgotten.

http://www.instagram.com/shop.lesage

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Vintage collection 01

Im going to start posting my vintage collections on the blog as I list them in my Etsy shop because I. LOVE. VINTAGE!

I’ve been picking and selling vintage online since before it was cool. Seriously, it’s been a very long time. I have watched empires be built on picking vintage all around me, but for some reason I never really took it very seriously for myself. It was always something fun I did in my free time, my side hustle…my stress reliever.

For the longest times I listened to the opinions of others and kept my ‘normal job’ so I could feel like a respectable member of society but my head was always dreaming up new designs and my heart was trapped somewhere in a small town thrift store.

Now I’m old enough to no longer care what society thinks of me. I thrift when my heart desires, and turn those designs in my brain into tangible items that I can feel in my hands and wrap around my body. I love that I do something that is creative, joyful and good for the planet. I am staying true to my heart and doing so in an ethical way.

The pieces I pick for the shop are the kinds of minimalist items that were just as cool years ago as they are today. They are the pieces that quite simply, I would want for myself. I no longer get caught up on an items age or era, but instead search for quality fabrics and classic designs.

Silk, linen, time softened denim and leather can be found in my shop in abundance. My color palette is fairly neutral… and I love a great boot. Seriously shoes of all kinds are my *ahem* Achilles heel.

If you are in the market for some timeless vintage pieces that are made of lovely natural fabrics, come check it out. I’m currently running an end of summer vintage sale… 10% off any order over $100 with coupon code TAKE10 and 20% off any order over $200 with coupon code TAKE20.

Choosing vintage is the best choice you can make for the environment, it’s also really fun to own pieces that are a bit unique and special. Next time you’re in the market for some new duds, before you hit the mall, try your local thrift store or let someone else do the heavy lifting for you and hit up an online marketplace!