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Why it’s #problematic that Nasty Gal is getting Netflixed

The Fashion Law’s Julie Zerbo breaks down the darker side to the #Girlboss story

Nasty Gal is coming to Netflix. Slated to debut today, the series documents – stylishly and at times, fictionally – the rise of clothing company Nasty Gal’s founder Sophia Amoruso (who is on board as an executive producer). Not inherently problematic, the show proves most noteworthy in light of a larger lack of context.

In its heyday, the Los Angeles-based retailer became a go-to for millennials thanks to its spot-on, low price runway copies (remember the Balmain jumpsuit rip off so striking that even Nasty Gal’s team confused for the real thing when Taylor Swift stepped out on the 2015 Billboard Music Awards red carpet?). Its social media presence and self-proclaimed #Girlboss attitude were also noteworthy, but the brand was maybe best known for the slew of controversies with which it was faced during Amoruso’s tenure as CEO, as well as its rather recent bankruptcy filing and sale.

With this in mind, a few of the pertinent facts surrounding the Nasty Gal venture – most of which will likely be either left out of or glossed over in the Netflix series – have been far from as praiseworthy as Amoruso’s best-selling book, #Girlboss, or mainstream media coverage of the company might lead you to believe. Consider the slew of lawsuits that were filed against Nasty Gal, a company that maintains a foundation aimed at empowering women.

The copyright and trademark infringement suits – and threats of litigation – began in 2011, with the Hells Angels filing suit against Nasty Gal for allegedly offering garments bearing its trademark in an attempt to allegedly profit on the notoriety and appeal of the well-known motorcycle group. This was followed by a number of other intellectual property infringement suits and cries of copying, largely from (female) emerging and independent designers. Employing a tactic that was not covered in her biz book, Amoruso famously responded to indie designer Saylor Rose’s claim of copying, saying: “Forgive us for never having heard of you… Congrats, you’ve been knocked off. It’s a rite of passage.”

Even more damning than the IP suits were the multiple pregnancy discrimination suits filed against Nasty Gal. In the first of a string of lawsuits, Nasty Gal was sued in March 2015 for allegedly “firing four pregnant women, as well as one man about to take paternity leave.” According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by ex-employee Aimee Concepcion, Nasty Gal terminated her and three other pregnant employees in violation of California state law. In her suit, Concepcion alleges that Nasty Gal systematically and illegally terminates pregnant employees, thereby failing to “provide (4 months of state-mandated) pregnancy leave and reinstatement (of employment after such leave).”

Still yet, there were the rounds and rounds of lay-offs, pages of less than flattering Glassdoor reviews (think: "Management and upper management (except for a few) have no idea what they're doing and are routinely dishonest"), and even more cease and desist letters from unhappy IP holders.

The brand has been plagued with manufacturing concerns for years. You may recall the 2014 U.S. Department of Labor probe, which found that more than 1,500 Southern California garment workers – including those working for a Nasty Gal supplier – were working in conditions with “all the features of a sweatshop” and were owed over $3 million in unpaid wages. While following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in November 2016 and subsequent $20-million sale to British online retailer, Nasty Gal has been able to stay out of court. But its new owner is not without controversy.

“You may recall the 2014 U.S. Department of Labor probe, which found that more than 1,500 Southern California garment workers – including those working for a Nasty Gal supplier – were working in conditions with ‘all the features of a sweatshop’”

Earlier this year, Channel 4’s award-winning investigative current affairs program Dispatches uncovered abuse of minimum wage laws in the UK. According to the report, manufacturers directly tied to Boohoo, as well as similar site Missguided, were paying factory workers less than half the legal minimum wage. Such legal discrepancies in terms of wages stand to qualify these factories as sweatshops in accordance with modern law. When asked about the suppliers at issue, including Fashion Square and United Creations, Boohoo said it was “unaware” that were carrying out work for its approved suppliers. 

Don’t expect any insight about all this by way of the #Girlboss series on Netflix, in part because it is being positioned as a comedy, for one thing. Secondly, with Amoruso’s hands-on involvement with the series, it is unlikely that the most damning aspects of this brand’s coming of age will make it to your screen. As Variety’s television critic Sonia Saraiya wrote in her review of the show, “‘Girlboss’ is a love letter to a paragon of success that doesn’t exist.” And to be frank, unless Netflix plans to give this story some context, Saraiya’s account is pretty darn accurate.