Attention girlies, gals, and girl bosses! Catherine analyses the rise of the popular thrifting app Depop and its impact on the future of the fashion industry.
There are many things that I daydream about doing that have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 Pandemic that has taken the world hostage just about a year and a half ago.
To rollerskate in a crowded rink and share nacho cheese dip with my friends, attend my hometown’s in-person “Go With the Flow” yoga class with my mom and the local grans at the Rec Center, and dance with Euan McGregor in Trainspotting to Blondie’s “Atomic” are activities that I desperately wish to participate in, despite our star-crossed situation at the moment. One of them of course cannot occur right now because I was not alive in 1994, but you get the point.
However, some things continue as usual with the help of the internet: staying in touch with friends, systemic racial injustice, and one of my favourite activities,thrifting. In fact, I would argue that thrifting has not continued as usual, but rather excelled and grown from 2020 onwards -- and if you know me, so has the rate at which I discuss it.
Of course general ‘flea market’-esque platforms have brought thrifting to the tips of everyone’s fingertips for almost a decade. Craig’s List, eBay, Primark and more have been places where people could sell their pre-loved clothes on their own terms. However, these platforms have never branched into what we conceive of as the fashion industry or even “high fashion”, which floats like an angel high above the “peasantry” of thrifting.
Depop, however, has crafted a bridge between the heavens of out of this world couture and the earth that the everyday shopper stands on. Founded in 2011 by Simon Beckerman, Depop is “an online flea market” which, according to Esquire’s Deputy Style Editor Finlay Renwick, “feels like a combination of eBay, Etsy, Instagram and WhatsApp, where sellers act as their own PRs, copywriters and creative directors.” And, with thrift stores closed throughout most of the world due to the pandemic, Depop has only continued to rise.
So, let’s dive into this teen-dominated marketplace and explore. How has the environment of Depop evolved over the last ten years and where is it going now that it is working with designers directly? Grab your backpacks, get your trail mix and reusable water bottles, and make sure you’re wearing some good trainers (even if they’re the ugly ones your mum got you): it’s going to be a hike.
Enjoying the Scenery
As mentioned earlier, Depop was founded almost ten years ago. Moving past the traumatic thought that 2011 was actually a decade ago and not three years ago, the fashion industry of that time is almost unrecognisable from the one today. Plus sizes were only really starting to be made accessible at the beginning of the 2010’s, and plus-size, curvy, or any models outside of the expected societal norm were just beginning to appear in mainstream magazines. Ashely Graham was the first plus-sized model to appear on the cover of The Swimsuit Issue, and that was just recently in 2016.
Depop burst onto an industry that although claiming otherwise, has not only put itself in a box, but also drawn additional boxes and lines along ideas of class, gender, race, and size. Now boasting over 16 million users in 147 countries, Depop is a platform that allows for people to take control of their aesthetic and narrative in an industry that has often tried to do that for them. And, with approximately 90% of users under the age of 26, concerns about sustainability, racial equality, and gender equality are a greater concern that is vocalised from a large number of people. Although one wouldn’t think of a thrifting app run by mainly twenty year old university students as a place of activism, in its mirroring of social media platforms like Instagram, it allows for a vocalistation of social justice that is not permitted in traditional online thrifting platforms.
Sustainability is the issue most associated with thrifting, and yet is perhaps the most exploited notion when it comes to fast-fashion. Large fast fashion conglomerates like Primark and H&M have infamously created green or fashion conscious lines while creating insanely large amounts of waste and paying factory workers abysmal wages. In a 2017 Guardian article, it was predicted that the UK is supposed to send 235 million items of clothing to the landfill this year. Depop is a platform that has not only made sustainable practices accessible, but normalised them to a large-scale audience. With this platform being mediated by mainly users twenty-six and under, installing sustainable practices in the everyday act of shopping has created a community that celebrates and makes mindfulness “trendy”. It takes a village, and I see Depop as that village.
Digging through the Dirt
As an avid user of Depop, it is easy for me to bask in the glow of my specifically curated feed while I sit cozily in my blue paisley patchwork button down I procured for £5 (plus free shipping). However, there are several issues within the platform of Depop that cannot be ignored.
The biggest issue within the platform of Depop is exactly the reason it is successful: its young users. Depop has a history of lacking in accountability in protecting its users, specifically young women, from online sexual harassment. Depop also combines elements of Whatsapp, and there are a recorded 20 million messages a month and only 219 employees working at Depop’s headquarters in London, Milan, and New York to keep track of sellers who have reported harassment to the company. Especially because Depop is an open market in which users are marketing, negotiating, and selling products themselves on their own money, some will put up with the harassment in order to make a sale and ends meet. There is actually an entire instagram account dedicated to documenting this harassment called Depop Drama, which although entertaining to scroll through, is a reminder that even if a platform is making strives to make itself more accessible, it is still a company that seeks profit and will continue to use its most vulnerable users (young girls) in that goal.
And, as Depop is a product of the traditional fashion industry, POC sellers are innately at a disadvantage. Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook, and Youtube all have been accused of using algorithms that favour white users over POC users, and Depop as a platform utilises different aspects of all of these platforms. Just as Instagram favours the classic thin model-esque white woman, so does Depop designate that look as a way to sell more in one’s own online shop. In an online post during the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, Depop posted that “diversity has always been fundamental to Depop -- but it hasn’t been represented fully on our platform and we’re changing that”. There are now separate feeds on Depop specifically to showcase POC sellers.
We’ve Reached the Mountain Top: Now What?
Where do we go from here when increasing accessibility in the fashion industry seems like a never-ending up hill climb? In 2019 Depop had in person collaborations with Selfridges and Ralph Lauren in Soho, and last year Depop hosted a collaboration with Vans shoes. Depop at the end of the day is made up of creative individuals, and to see individuals like Adam Milnes, owner of the Depop account The Joint Store, supply over one hundred and fifty items for the Ralph Lauren pop up in Soho makes one question the boundaries in fashion in the first place. What is “high end” anymore when it can be bought and sold by everyday people outside of the traditional marketplace? And why does fashion have to be defined by the barriers it sets, rather than the borders it could work to destroy?
Accountability in the fashion industry has been twisted to always been on the individual, despite some of the largest carbon footprints and workers rights violations coming from those controlling the garment industry. Yet, Depop as its own unique platform has made one thing clear: it has never been fashionable to look sustainable, and where there is a demand, there will be a supply.
And a side of Depop that is rarely discussed is the amount of original businesses that use the platform to increase their visibility. Small businesses are able to be successful because Depop allows for such a wide range of creativity to be showcased on their platform, such as the ones found from some of my favourite UK Based Depop accounts: Blemish Clothing, Glow Nic, Keeka Vintage, JUNO Jewellery, Voodoo Spawn, and Transition St Andrews.
In a world where individual choice has never mattered so much, it is often that larger entities try to take that away from us. Although it is not perfect, I see Depop as the place in which individual choice is regarded as crucial, and it is not a mirage unlike in traditional fashion spheres.
Well, we’ve come to the end of our hike. The trail mix is happily in your stomach, your legs are tired, and you’re gazing out at the beautiful sunset you’ve been waiting to see all day. The sky blushes before schooling itself for you, and you sit on the top of this mountain, wondering if you’ll ever come down.
Perhaps increasing accessibility and diversity in fashion will always be an uphill battle. But, like Miley Cyrus said, it’s all about the climb. And as long as I get to do that looking chic, then I think I’m going to have a good, good climb.