Is Depop becoming gentrified?

Trinity News investigates the growing ethical concerns surrounding the sourcing and sale of second hand goods online

Depop first came onto the fashion scene when it launched in 2011, as a peer-to-peer clothing selling app, rivalling the likes of eBay, Vinted and Poshmark. The app has revolutionised second-hand shopping, promoting sustainable shopping and breaking the stigma which has often been wrongfully attached to second-hand clothing. With over 21 million users, 90% of whom are under the age of 26, Depop has popularised shopping for pre-loved clothing amongst its Gen-Z users.

“What once was an app for selling second-hand goods at a reasonable price has been transformed into a profit-making scheme for upper middle class sellers.”

With sustainability at the forefront of many young consumers’ minds as a result of the climate crisis, vintage clothing has been steadily gaining popularity over the years, with demand now at an all time high and projected to rise even more over the next 5 years. However, one of the fundamental principles of economics, the law of supply and demand, has crept its way into the pre-loved clothing market. When demand goes up, prices go up, and as Depop sellers set the prices themselves (in what is essentially an unregulated market) the prices of second-hand goods have skyrocketed. What once was an app for selling second-hand goods at a reasonable price has been transformed into a profit-making scheme for upper middle class sellers.

In the age of social media, micro-trends are rampant and relentless. Almost anything can become a trend overnight thanks to a viral TikTok or a stamp of approval from a certain influencer. Depop sellers cash in on these trends and act fast, raising their prices as soon as they catch wind of the latest trend. Evisu Jeans, Diesel skirts and Miss Sixty tops are some of the latest trends storming the clothing app thanks to the rebirth of the “Y2K” aesthetic. The popularity of these Y2K items is reflected in their prices. However, these trends were not always dominating the app as, last year, a Nike Spellout Jumper could set you back €120, or a brown North Face puffer jacket could cost you a whopping €450.

The main issue with Depop lies with those who resell items they have sourced, as opposed to items from their personal wardrobe. These resellers trawl through charity shop after charity shop, in search of items with potential that they can sell for big prices. These resellers raid children’s sections of charity shops for “vintage Y2K baby tees” as they could possibly be sold for upwards of €30. These charity shop sweeps have directly affected those of a lower income who heavily rely on second-hand shopping. Generally, these resellers are of a higher income and have the privilege of buying such a high volume of clothes to resell. Sellers on Depop are able to run legitimate businesses and earn a living through sourcing and selling cheap clothing for a higher price.

“The prices on Depop literally push people towards buying the fast fashion options instead.”

Many users of the app have complained about the soaring prices. A longtime user of the app highlighted how they “used to be able to buy clothes for a reasonable price, like €5 to €15, however now the prices are just insane. A top could end up costing you €45 and that’s not even including shipping.” Another user highlighted how “The prices on Depop literally push people towards buying the fast fashion options instead. It’s so hard to justify spending over €50 on a top or a skirt when you can go to Pretty Little Thing or even SHEIN and get something so similar for a fraction of the price.” She emphasises how she tries “not to buy from fast fashion options but sometimes it gets so hard not to, especially when money is tight. When prices are this high, of course people are going to turn to the option which gets them more for their money – you can’t blame them.” She goes on to explain how “the prices [on Depop] are ultimately driving people away and pushing them towards the unsustainable option when buying clothes – it’s ridiculous. Everyone should be able to shop sustainably and genuinely it just feels like people’s greed is taking over.”

Brands which typically retail for cheap, low prices are being sold at outrageously high prices, especially when the quality of the clothing is taken into account. Items from Secret Possessions, Primark’s lingerie sub-brand, are being resold for upwards of €30, advertised as “authentic vintage and Y2K” corsets and babydoll dresses on the app. It can be difficult to find stylish, on-trend brands in charity shops and it takes time, effort and skill to source and sell these pieces; however, one may wonder if it is morally right to buy from a charity shop with the intention of reselling for a profit and personal gain.

However, others argue that shopping second hand is always a positive – no matter who is buying from a charity shop. According to Oxfam, over 70% of donated clothes end up in landfills as they did not sell in stores. Resellers bulk buying this stock to sell and reach a wider audience ultimately prevents the clothing from going to landfill. While a charity shop may only reach the local community, an online Depop shop has the potential to reach a global market of 21 million users. One app user praises these Depop shops stating, “There are so many things I own that I just wouldn’t have been able to get in Ireland. I have ordered things from all over the world – specifically the UK, Spain, Germany, France. I would get most of my stuff from the UK, just because I find that there are so many more options for me on the UK version of the app as opposed to the Irish one.” Depop has helped make the purchase of secondhand clothing easy, quick and effortless for so many users worldwide, however it is not accessible for all due to the exclusionary nature of the prices.

Ultimately, Depop is at risk of losing its core values through its rising popularity and increased number of users. Depop states that its mission is to be a “community-powered fashion ecosystem that’s kinder on the planet and kinder to people.” However, this community is failing itself, as their pricing is pushing many people away and closing the door to sustainable fashion for so many users who justifiably will not pay absurd prices for pre-loved garments. Depop has transformed the approach the younger generation has towards shopping but, if prices continue to rise, many young people will not have the option to use the platform at all, ultimately pushing them towards fast-fashion.