A Vintage Vision: How Depop Is Changing The Fashion Industry- Ciarán Quinn

The Impact of Fast Fashion

Fashion has long been a lucrative industry, with its domestic market being valued at US$406 billion. The ability for this market to amass such a wealth is a testament to the phenomenon of what we all know as ‘fast fashion’: the way that companies can now produce clothing for very cheap prices quickly. This creation was the result of innovation within the clothing industry’s supply chain (how a company gets all the materials it needs to make their product, along with how quickly the product can get in the hands of customers). The resulting accelerated transition of fashion trends from a Milanese catwalk to a suburban fashion outlet was the spark for an industry poised to explode. This is no more obvious than when one looks at a goliath of the industry, Zara. The Spanish apparel retailer has honed their ability to produce quickly to a fine point, where the time frame for turning a design into a wearable item only has a two week turn-around. This incredible propensity to deliver item after item is reflected in their sales value of US$21.9 billion, as of July 2020. However, these great strides in production have come with ramifications. With the U.K. sending 350,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill annually, and 62 million tonnes of apparel being consumed globally per year (and a huge amount of electricity, water and chemicals with it), it’s clear this cannot go on indefinitely. Not only is a huge waste being created, but there is also a certain amount of skill and value being lost with it. Historically, the creation of the ‘cotton jack’ and the emergence of the golden age of cotton in the American Deep South saw another world snuffed out almost entirely. The institution of apprenticeship and the guilds that maintained it were swallowed up by the processes made possible through this industrial innovation. The fast fashion industry resembles this, with an increasing number of smaller manufacturers and independent clothes shops in Ireland and the wider world having been decimated competitively. With over production and over saturation, one door of entrepreneurial possibility and innovation opened as another shut.

The Flea Market: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

An unlikely hero has emerged with an innovative solution to the fashion industry’s current situation: Vintage clothing through the peer-to-peer shopping app, Depop. The app was founded by Simon Beckerman in 2011 as a cross between a marketplace and a social network in what he affectionately labelled an ‘international flea market’. The resulting app gave the chance for users to act as buyers and sellers simultaneously. The app provided a perfect springboard for sellers to be a manager of their own P.R. and marketing as they bought and sold items. This gave individual sellers both a digital voice and an electronic stall from which they could buy and sell items. The app has skyrocketed in popularity, with over 140,000 new items being added daily on average to over 15 million users

Making the Most of Social Media Appeal

Depop operates much like its alternative e-commerce platforms such as eBay and Amazon. However, its design, with an almost Instagram like feel, has played an instrumental role in its success. The glossy home screen and potential to scroll through a variety of potential buys imitates a stroll through a vintage shop-laden street in Berlin, which in turn reinforces its focus on fashion, style, commerce and culture. With the world’s current situation barring people from such treasure troves, now more than ever has the app’s clever interface made vintage-shopping accessible. The addition of a Twitter like ‘verification badge’ echoes this sentiment and encourages users to invest time and effort into shaping and perfecting their ‘shops’ image. Depop charges a flat rate fee of 10% on sales, including shipping costs, which is a competitive rate against the likes of eBay. The University Times has a very informative article about two Trinity business students who have seen a significant rise in their account traffic since the beginning of lock down, which you can read here.

Old Items, New Chances

The app has allowed a new lease of life to be given to second-hand items of clothing and it’s no wonder these used items are dubbed as ‘pre-loved’. This propensity for old items to find new homes is reflected in the sale of DVD’s, cassettes and tapes which became obsolete years before now fetching a price on the site. The potential doesn’t stop there as Depop’s user base’s continuous innovation cuts slices out of the fast fashion behemoth. Seasonal items such as Halloween costumes or decorations, whose lifespan is short-lived before inevitably being dumped into a landfill, can now be enjoyed and sold again. Although the app may have not been initially designed to act as a sustainable platform its potential has been revealed, much like users who sought to just shift unwanted clothes but have (perhaps unintentionally) embraced vintage fashion. 

The app’s ability to give individual sellers a voice is not limited to reselling, with a variety of crafters and indie manufacturers making use of the website, ranging from hand-knitted sweaters to embroidered garments and handcrafted accessories. It is ironic to say that these historic industries have been given a lifeline through modern innovation – derived in part initially from old garments. This ability for indie crafters and individual sellers culminates in the store-like feel that each ‘shop’ creates, with the ability for relationships to build between buyer and seller in what creates a much more intimate user experience. There is no doubt this has a part to play in the app’s already enormous and still growing success.  

A Word of Warning

Depop is a prime example of a media come market platform that has grown organically into realms not imagined. Dishearteningly, Depop seems to be putting a tap on this growth. There were reports that a platform was being designed to allow brands to sell to customers wholesale using the app. The potential effects of this should send a shudder down the spine of users of the site, much like how the industrial roar of America’s production lines stunned its guilds to a murmur. Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it and if Depop fail to heed this warning, it may drown out the very business and people that cherished it.

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