From Girl Power to Riot Grrrls, feminist movements and catchphrases have sought to redefine what it means to be a “girl” beyond gender, age or position. “Girlboss” is the latest buzz word to reappropriate what it means to be a girl, with an emphasis on work, money and career for the millennial age. Sophia Amoruso wrote the book on the topic (it’s the name of her autobiography) after turning her small eBay shop, Nasty Gal Vintage, into a multimillion-dollar retail fashion empire, known simply as Nasty Gal. She left her position as CEO in 2015 and the company filed for bankruptcy the next year, but the brand lives on: Amoruso sold it to U.K.-based boohoo.com for $20 million, with Nasty Gal's HQ remaining right here in Los Angeles.
Girlboss Media is Amoruso’s new company, and though the TV show it inspired was canceled after its first season, the brand has proven to be stronger in real life. The lifestyle website functions as online magazine and also features a conference component. Known as “Girlboss Rallies,” these gatherings feature female executives and entrepreneurs speaking on topics ranging from finance and work to wellness and beauty.
The second annual Girlboss L.A. Rally took place on Saturday, April 28, at the Magic Box at the Reef downtown. In addition to talks and Q&As, the event featured what they called “activations” with brand partners including Luna Bars (giveaways) and Sephora (makeovers and photo shoots). More interesting were the booths from Facebook and Google, which sought to incorporate their platforms in a productive way to both women and small businesses — the former touting its maligned Messenger app as a way to connect with other women and encourage one another via an “inspiring words” message wall, the latter with reps from Google Maps educating small business owners about Google Maps’ review section and search features.
There were vendors selling clothing and accessories in way too many Anthropologie-style beige hues for this glam girl. But Girlboss’ own line of merch was cool — badass slogans like “PAY ME” and “Start Your Own Shit” were emblazoned on tees, bags and jackets. These same words of empowerment were plastered on the walls throughout the event, but they resonated most coming from the day’s speakers, who ranged from female lawyers (“If they underestimate you — good, then they won’t know what hit them”) to venture capitalists to the day’s headlining guest speaker, Gwyneth Paltrow.
While she does have a huge following, Paltrow’s presence might have put some off at first. For one thing, she didn’t become a success the way Amoruso did, working her way up doing menial jobs. Her family was rich and famous, then she scored some primo acting roles, won awards and used her name recognition to launch a website called Goop. The lifestyle site has become known as a perpetuator of hipster/nouveau hippie-chick pretentiousness, a place where women of means buy into the boho-lux mindset because they can afford to, filling their fridges with organic/artisanal everything, steaming their vaginas for hormonal health and ending their relationships by consciously (as opposed unconsciously) uncoupling.
But when GP did finally take the stage (in a hot pink frock, no less) she came off pretty chill, and pretty real, chatting with Amoruso about Goop (people wondered “what the fuck I was doing,” she admitted) and the challenges and judgment women face in in the business sphere, something she obviously knows a lot about.
“I am not a Goop follower, so I didn’t know what to expect from the chat,” Girlboss attendee Tescia Deák told me afterward. “I liked how Gwyneth spoke about growing an organic following versus a paid following. Rather than pushing out a bunch of content that is going to give them the most views, she built the brand based on nurturing each piece of content. It was fun to watch the ease at which Sophia and Gwyneth bantered — a nice afternoon break, and the room was packed.”
Indeed, the good vibes between speakers and attendees was one of the most palpable aspects of the event. Though lack of opportunities have seen women forced into being competitive with one another in business, Girlboss encourages sisterhood and supporting one another, so networking and meeting new women was a fun aspect. I met Deak during lunchtime at the rally, in a trendy living room–like setup surrounded by pink neon, pink phone-charging stations and music from a female DJ spinning soul and funk on vinyl.
While I was there with a press pass, Deák, who recently moved from New York to L.A. for her position at Grey Group (who work with Hasbro, Fitbit and FX), paid more than $300 for the privilege; that included breakfast and lunch (Tender Greens) and a giant swag bag (a backpack really), not to mention a day full of talks, meetings and inspiration. She felt it was worth it.
“Something I realized during the rally was that 'Girlboss' is not just a book, or the face of Sophia Amoruso, but more of a community response to the cultural climate we are living in,” Deák says. “It almost feels like this moment, right now, is the final push to real equality for women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, so on and so forth — that’s really something to be a part of. Additionally, I connected with some really interesting female entrepreneurs and creatives who are 'starting their own shit' and learned about VCs [venture capitalists], which is worth knowing about.”
It seemed everyone was inspired and excited to be there. As someone who has always valued creative expression over career and commerce (to my detriment), I went in a little skeptical, but I was sold on it all by the end. I left feeling focused and ambitious about my ideas, my potential and my value, which is the whole point. I was lucky enough to hear Amoruso and her team speak in an intimate and exclusive round-table interview before I entered the rally, and the things they had to say about finding the will and confidence to achieve success the way men do resonated so much — too much.
“Women network but we don't ask for things,” Amoruso said. “I think something different about Girlboss is it’s given people the confidence and sort of been that catalyst to encourage them to do that. … It’s encouraging women to make the ask.” Amoruso also spoke candidly about listening to your gut instincts, and creating time for mental health and oneself in life, something that came up again and again throughout the day’s programming. Being a successful female in work isn’t actually about being bossy, or being driven solely by money and success; it’s about working hard at what you love and finding balance while you do so. The Girlboss Rally seemed to have plenty of women who've learned how to do both.
Check out girlboss.com for more on the Rally and for more women-in-business content.