With charity shops cleared out and ‘rare’ Brandy Melville selling for hundreds of pounds, some say the second-hand clothing app is heading towards exclusivity
Since it was founded in 2011, Depop has played a major role in popularising second-hand clothing amongst its 21+ million users – 90 per cent of whom it estimates are under the age of 26. Whether it’s oversized vintage Nike sweats, 90s baby tees or pre-loved tennis skirts, buying used is bigger than ever as a new generation turns away from the environmental costs of fast fashion. Thanks in large part to Depop, youth shopping habits are truly heading in a more sustainable direction.
However, keeping up with the latest trends (vintage ones included) can be costly – and the popularity of #Y2K, #rare and #vintage pieces have become justifications for noticeably higher prices than those usually found on the app. A bootleg spell out sweater might grant its wearer Insta baddie status, but it may also set them back upwards of £200. Or, perhaps a ‘vintage’ Brandy Melville piece for a measly £360 (despite the original costing under £50).
These prices – which are set by sellers themselves, in what is essentially a huge unregulated free market – has not gone unnoticed by users. TikTok user and musician Naomi El recently posted a video on the “gentrification of Depop”, addressing the “exploitation” on the app. “When I first started using Depop around five years ago I could find really nice second-hand pieces of clothing for under £10,” she tells Dazed. “But now the app has become a lot more expensive. It’s really off-putting as many people like myself use Depop to be more sustainable.”
While first the app may have allowed people to afford clothes they might not have had access to, or couldn’t put in the hours to find, Naomi thinks that’s changed. “Depop was initially amazing for those in low-income communities as it meant people could get the charity shopping experience without spending hours in a charity shop,” she summarises, qualifying the ability to spend time going through second-hand rails as “wealth privilege”. Now, she thinks the app’s “gentrification” “justifiably forces (people) to shop fast fashion”.
In its 2020 report, online thrift store thredUP estimated that the second-hand market is set to be worth a staggering $64B in the next five years. Resale, in particular, is expected to overtake the traditional thrift and donation segment by 2024. This begs the question: are the days of £1 charity shop finds long gone? Have the best finds been taken by a store owner to resell later at a higher price? Part of that may be down to the rise in professional sellers, many of whom are able to make serious money. And their entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring even the smallest of sellers too.
“My Depop homepage quickly tells me I could get a lot more for my money by shopping fast fashion if I was shopping out of necessity and not for pleasure,” says Emma, who runs the activist Instagram account @ethical_emma. “In an ideal world, charities would know the worth of their items and would be able to charge more informed prices,” she says – consequently, the profits would always stay within the charity.
“My Depop homepage quickly tells me I could get a lot more for my money by shopping fast fashion, if I was shopping out of necessity and not for pleasure” – Emma, of @ethical_emma
Depop admits that charity shops play a major role in “encouraging a wider audience that selling and buying second hand is undeniably a better option for the planet and its people.” For that reason, the app offers charity shops themselves the opportunity to sell items on the app without the standard 10% transaction fee which is routinely applied to every listing, thus allowing them to “reach a younger demographic with a wider offering than they can on their shop floor.”
Both Emma and Naomi expressed that the majority of Depop sellers don’t over-inflate their prices and commended the time taken to create thoughtful businesses. ‘Reworked’ sellers, in particular, take older pieces of clothing and breathe new life into them – and as WRAP estimates that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year, elongating the life cycle of clothing items is imperative.
Hemmed Clothing is a seller doing exactly that, with sustainability at its core. Eme and Heather are the brains behind the brand. “Our labels are made from scrap material, and we stamp our logo onto that and sew it in to reduce fabric waste and unnecessary new material,” they explain, adding that customers also receive a scrunchie made from scrap with each order. With their target buyers being students and young people, they set their prices accordingly but also note that “some things are very rare and therefore hold a lot of value just as collectable items of any kind do.” It takes expertise to know what’s worth money, and what isn’t. “There is an issue when sellers make out items to be rare when they’re not and may mislead buyers,” they say.
While sellers that buy from charity shops with the intent to resell the items have also been criticised for clearing the rails, anyone who has rummaged through piles of clothing only to find garish prints and unflattering denim will agree that having an eye for fashionable second-hand pieces is a real skill. For many sellers, the criticism is unjust.
“Sourcing stock from charity shops can take anywhere between one to five hours, so that is time out of the working day and therefore time and money lost already,” says Lucy, founder of L.DROBE. Her Depop store has earned a following of 16K and offers a mix of vintage and second-hand clothing. Lucy explained the long process of sourcing, styling, photographing then editing the product images which all takes place before listing and shipping the item. There are other costs that are not acknowledged as well, such as packaging and photography equipment – things the buyer might not even realise they’re paying for. “People don’t ever question buying a top from a fast fashion brand, which they have probably earned a 4x mark up (on), and has been made in indescribable conditions.”
In order to gain the title of ‘top seller’, shop owners must hit their own targets. Consequently, “selling a certain amount of stock at a certain price point is essential in order for us to grow, and ultimately provide more”, according to Lucy. In addition, the typical 10 per cent seller fee must also be considered when deciding upon prices. A statement from Depop detailed that its initiatives, like the top seller programme, are “dedicated efforts to help maintain fair marketplace standards.” Targets such as “selling items at an average price of £15 for four months in a row, or selling £2,000 worth of items for four months” are in place to secure “well-curated second-hand fashion at an accessible price point”.
“Sourcing stock from charity shops can take anywhere between one to five hours, so that is time out of the working day and therefore time and money lost already” – Lucy, founder of Depop store L.DROBE
And then there’s dropshipping. As touched on in Naomi’s video, the controversial practice of dropshipping occurs when orders are placed directly from factories or overseas websites, like AliExpress, then listed for sale – often with a large markup. The practice is profoundly unsustainable, particularly when cheap, potentially unethically made items are purchased in bulk and shipped across the world. As of March 2020, it is “prohibited” to dropship items on Depop. The app says this policy is “an effort to keep Depop a creative marketplace with quality products.”
While other resale sites – like Vestiaire Collective, which is more geared towards luxury fashion than Depop – provide sellers with price guidelines and may not list items considered to be overpriced, Depop does not currently have a regulation system in place for its users when setting prices. “We allow our sellers to price their items at whatever price they believe is reasonable as they are the ones who are putting in the time and effort to source or create”, the statement explained, admitting that “there are some aspects of the resale model that need to be addressed” and acknowledging the need for “more equity and inclusion to thrifting culture and marketplace dynamics”.
“We allow our sellers to price their items at whatever price they believe is reasonable as they are the ones who are putting in the time and effort to source or create” – Depop
Despite the creativity and resourcefulness of the platform, will shoppers be forced to explore new avenues to quench their vintage thirst if prices continue to rise? Or, will they be pushed further towards the allure of affordable fast fashion? Depop describes its vision of being the “leading sustainable marketplace for the future”, and the largely positive influence it’s had on a new generation of consumers is undeniable. Still, as the app’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down, it remains to be seen whether the demand for unique second-hand clothing may tempt prices to continue creeping upwards, ultimately hindering the platform’s accessibility.