“Sorry bro they’re gonna be posted on Monday, caught my ear in a blender so been a little inactive x” is just one of the many gems immortalised on the Instagram account @depopdrama, which shares unimaginably ludicrous Depop buyer-seller interactions with its 558,000 followers. A sort of gourmet eBay for students and YoPros alike, Depop has served as a - somewhat tragic - microcosm of the way that young people communicate and consume ever since it was first victimised in tweets and tabloids.

Now, after months of lockdown, the app has become the place to go for unnecessary covid purchases, and - in the absence of proper fashion weeks and red carpets - has undoubtedly matured from trend-spreader to trend-setter. It is more or less to blame for the fact that we all dress the same, and only seems to be expanding, going on a colossal hiring spree after demand doubled over the past months.

And who can be surprised? We all know it, we all know someone who’s on it. Depop boasts over 20 million users, with 90% of them under 26. Since its inception in 2011, the online marketplace has turned Gen Z - said to be increasingly eco-conscious and money-minded - into a generation of budding internet entrepreneurs. Accessible and user-friendly even for the most technologically illiterate among us, it takes mere seconds to upload an item for sale: add a photo, size, price and short description. It’s as simple as uploading a mirror selfie on Instagram. In the same way that YouTube and Instagram gave rise to their own viral stars, Depop’s cult-like popularity has birthed a new tribe of influencers: successful sellers auctioning off their own garments or items they’ve thrifted, sourced in bulk or even forged themselves. For many, it’s their self-confessed ‘side hustle’ - they’re grappling with full university timetables or working days.

"Whilst I was at uni, I'd focus on Depop on Saturdays and Sundays; I'd take my photos on weekends and be stocked up for the whole week. I would drop stuff off at the post office on my way to my 9am lecture."

Depop not only allows its users to thrift their way through the season’s trends, but it’s often been credited as the very source of the vogue; bucket hats and Burberry flannel shirts are Depop 101. It has facilitated a renaissance of ’90s and ’00s fashion, or the nostalgic ‘y2k’ wave, meaning there are far more low-rise jeans and slip dresses spotted on the streets than we might have expected in 2020. It’s an aesthetic that prides itself on having bypassed the environmental toxicity of the fast fashion industry. That’s not to say the app is without a dark side; reports of harassment, scams, extortionately high prices (‘unique’ and ‘rare’ are never words I’d seen used to describe Brandy Melville before) and downright bizarre interactions are rife. With so many similarities to other social media platforms, that’s nothing special. But what is new is a sustainable, economical and highly personal approach to the shopping experience and individual style overall. We heard from some of Depop’s top-rated sellers about their journey on the platform, a day in the life and what it takes to successfully run an online shop.

Lara Fair (@larafair1), who describes her high-profile shop as “All things trousers!” started out on Depop during secondary school, but it was only once she got to university that she realised it could act as a viable replacement for her part-time job. “To me, doing something creative and less labour intensive was enough incentive for me to stop replenishing supermarket shelves”, she explains. Full-time seller Asal Tehrani’s account (@susamusa, which boasts 92,000 followers) offers “timeless classic nineties pieces mixed with out-there noughties pieces” and also took off whilst she was at university, studying for a degree in Chemistry with 26 weekly contact hours: “Whilst I was at uni, I’d focus on Depop on Saturdays and Sundays; I’d take my photos on weekends and be stocked up for the whole week. I would drop stuff off at the post office on my way to my 9am lecture. During exams, I had to pay someone to reply to messages”. Student Susie Garvie (@susielola) takes entire days out of her routine to “take pictures, write my thank you cards and list products. It takes ages and really needs a whole day set aside so everything’s not rushed”, she explains. One of many students treating the app as a part-time job, this lifestyle speaks to the changing nature of young professionalism, particularly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The app is so competitive now that it's hard to stand out, as there are so many creative people doing similar things."

For Axelle Dufresne (@axelledufresne), who focuses on selling her own upcycled pieces, the process involves careful planning. “You need to have a plan every week as to how many items you want to put up you need to be able to identify with your audience and engage with them,” she notes. “I think having other social media accounts for your Depop such as Instagram can really help as this gives you the chance to be able to talk to your customers and help them understand you’re only human too. It’s important for customers to know who they are buying from so being able to get to know them is essential.”

Similarly, Celia Marment (@celiapops), a self-proclaimed fan of the noughties and 90s, adds that sourcing new stock is a constant consideration, and not as straightforward as it seems. “You’re always on the hunt for new sources: it’s a huge part of the job and is definitely why people are secretive about it. I think a lot of people are under the impression that most sellers have one supplier that they get all their stock from, but actually most people will source from a number of places”, she explains. “Recently I handpicked a big load of deadstock from a samples factory that made clothes for brands like Topshop, Etam and Pilot back in the day. We also get a lot of vintage designer stock from Italy.”

Being an Internet phenomenon, the app has experienced its fair share of controversies. A lack of price regulation and its dependence on a relationship of trust has meant stories of elaborate scams and cases of fraud are not uncommon. The platform has undeniably changed thrifting culture, but many complain of a gentrification effect that excludes a whole section of the market; when the prices of resold garments creep up, they are rendered inaccessible to lower-income buyers who may then be forced to turn to fast fashion brands catering to lower budgets. When a Jane Norman top from the ’90s is priced at £200, you couldn’t blame anybody for seeing the appeal of Asos.

"If we can normalise buying second hand, we can collectively reduce the number of consumers shopping at places like Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Boohoo. If you're buying a top for £4, how much do you think the workers are being paid?"

Garvie raises another common gripe: dropshipping. “Some sellers bulk-buy from AliExpress and sell for an extortionate amount higher. A few of these accounts are verified and supported by Depop, even though it’s against their new rules! It’s terrible business to not only support poorly-made fast fashion where the workers aren’t paid a living wage, but also to rip off buyers on the app who are none the wiser.” Fair agrees, adding: “It just takes away from Depop being based around second-hand buying and sustainability. And undermines all the hard work other sellers put into sourcing stock.” Similarly, several sellers recently came under fire for using the tag ‘chav’ to promote their items, exacerbating the deeply problematic aestheticization of ‘working class style’.

From the horse’s mouth: sellers’ favourite stores

@kezmadeit for tulle pieces

@d_railed for designer streetwear

@annawetton for y2k style

@shannoony for handmade milkmaid tops

@nellskitch for everything quirky

From the sellers’ side, life isn’t always a glossy feed of enviably put-together outfits. Behind the scenes, the work can be draining and all-consuming. “I think every Depoper will have days where it seems like nothing is selling and it can be really demotivating,” explains Dufresne. “It’s also hard to treat it like a real job. It can be so easy to slack, but when you do you really notice it and it affects your sales. So, staying on top of your game is very important.” Tehrani, who cites photos and packaging as her least favourite part, explains that work-life boundaries are essential when so much of the work is done online: “It’s a 24-hour job. You see a message come in at 10pm at night - maybe an American customer - and you need a lot of discipline not to reply to it.” Celia feels the same. “Technically the work never stops as people are always on their phones. The listing and bookkeeping process is pretty soul sucking,” she adds. 

But a platform of this scale will always have its problems, and Depop’s ethos undoubtedly outweighs them, for the app in itself does not only encourage second hand selling, but has now actively made it desirable. The increasing popularity of sites such as Depop is promising; slow fashion is here to stay. Whilst this means, as Garvie notes, "The app is so competitive now that it’s hard to stand out, as there are so many creative people doing similar things”, this is only a testament to its power over industry. And its sellers are certainly conscious of this: “Clothing production is one of the biggest global contributors to climate change. Fast fashion plays a massive role in this and if we can normalise buying second hand, we can collectively reduce the number of consumers shopping at places like Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Boohoo. If you’re buying a top for £4, how much do you think the workers are being paid?”, asks Fair, who actually did her dissertation on this very problem. 

Sellers actively sustainability through their account bios, which often market their shops around the very aim of recycling and rewearing, to the extent that - as Dufresne puts it - "people are proud to say if something they have bought is second hand or vintage". Celia is passionate about alerting her buyers to the relationship between fashion and the environment, as "80 billion new garments are currently purchased every year. If fast fashion continues at this rate, the industry will account for 26% of the global carbon budget by 2050. An unbelievable amount of second hand garments exist, most of which currently end up in landfills or are incinerated. To have a platform where sellers can make even a portion of the second hand out there more accessible to consumers is such a brilliant thing". For the same reason, Tehrani tells us “People ask why don’t you do your own brand? But using new material would go against everything I stand for.”

And so, as the market becomes increasingly profitable and consumers become increasingly interested, it is inevitable that apps like Depop can only get bigger and - if the attitude of its sellers is anything to go by - better. As Garvie so aptly puts it: “Sustainable fashion is the future!”