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Depop's Dizzying Rise from Your Bedroom to Fashion Week

The clothes resale app that has defined Gen Z fashion is about to host its first fashion show at NYFW.

by Isabel Bull
04 September 2019, 9:00am

Images via Depop

On a Tuesday afternoon in August, there's a quiet energy running through Depop's Shoreditch office.

On the 5th of September, the social marketplace app is teaming up with VFiles – the global online fashion platform beloved by Rihanna – to put on its first New York Fashion Week (NYFW) show. A regular on the NYFW circuit, VFiles was launched in 2012 and has heralded the rise of some of contemporary pop culture's most innovative names, from streetwear brand Off-White to American rap collective Brockhampton. To say this show is a big deal for Depop is an understatement – not bad for a resale app best known for helping teenagers sell their unwanted clothes.

"We started [Depop] by allowing people to build viable businesses," says Steve Dool, Depop's head of community partnerships. "But we've never done anything like a runway show before. This is another way that we're disrupting the fashion industry."

It's easy to dismiss this as just another talking point; after all, everyone from Snoop Dogg to Apple have been named fashion industry disruptors. But this is exactly what Depop is doing. Recently dubbed "Gen Z’s favourite shopping app" by New York magazine, the company has revolutionised the way young people shop. Shoppers can browse hundreds of items from an Instagram-friendly format and buy with a tap of a finger.

Depop hasn't just transformed online shopping – it now plays a critical role in shaping youth culture. Often name-checked by viral meme accounts like @dankmemes4homecountiesteens, celebrities and influencers including Emily Ratajkowski, Olivia Buckland and Lottie Moss are fans (and, crucially, users). The app is becoming a platform where young people go for fashion inspiration; Depop tags like "Y2k vintage" and "vintage 00s" helped to usher in the early-2000s style revival. Earlier this year, Dazed claimed that Depop had defined style for a new generation.

"We've arrived at Fashion Week, but we're doing it our way," says Dool. "The show will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, not the main venue. It's a very Depop and VFiles way of doing Fashion Week."

"It will also be open to the public," adds Danielle Greco, Depop's head of content, who's been instrumental in pulling this feat off. There’s a giddy excitement between Dool and Greco, who bounce off each other as they explain Depop's role in the project. Applications opened on the 21st of July for up-and-coming designers, stylists, models and photographers across the globe to work the show under the mentorship of industry leaders, including VFiles founder Julie Anne Quay, stylist Law Roach and Romero Jennings, Director of Makeup at M.A.C Cosmetics.

It's certainly a big moment. So how did a previously little-known social shopping app get here?

Depop was founded in 2011 by Simon Beckerman, a British-Italian entrepreneur. Having already launched PIG, an Italian culture magazine, Beckerman wanted an online social platform to bring together the kind of creatives he encountered. Inspired by eBay, he created the Depop app, a mobile marketplace that enables individuals to connect, share, buy and sell items on their phones. At first, Depop grew slowly and by word of mouth. Eventually, it landed its big break in 2014 when it was featured on Apple's App Store homepage and endorsed by influencer Chiara Ferragni.

Today, Depop has 14 million users worldwide. Staff and top Depop sellers work side-by-side across its open-plan London headquarters. With strategically placed indoor plants and Tokyo Fashion Week catalogues, the space hums with a muted confidence.

"What makes Depop significant is its immense success with people under the age of 26," says Rosie Findlay, a London College of Fashion scholar of digital fashion media, and author of Personal Style Blogs: Appearances that Fascinate. "It marries the centrality of personal taste, identity and brand that we see on other user-generated media, like Instagram, with a second-hand marketplace."

"Secondhand clothes have been traded, valued and worn for centuries, so in many ways it's not surprising that people use the internet to [do this]," Findlay continues. "But with Depop, it's part of a wider trend that has seen fairly recent styles from the late-90s or the first decade of the 2000s start to feel fresh again, spurring fashion labels to re-release past collections and revive past styles."

depop app
Images via Depop

This doesn't mean things have always been plain sailing. By early 2016, the app was in trouble. Beckerman had left due to disputes with the board. Staff were leaving too, and the app was having scaling pains. To turn things around, Maria Raga, a Spanish business consultant who originally joined Depop in 2014 as Chief Operating Officer, was elected CEO by the board. Soon, Beckerman was back as creative director and a new version of the app was launched. Depop expanded to the US in early 2018, doubled its user base there within just a year and landed a massive $62 million in funding in June of that year.

For Dool, Depop's functionality is key to its success. "It functions like a social media app. People know how to use it, and that social element is really pivotal," he explains. "It also has a fairly low overhead for people who may be interested in testing what it's like to build a business."

Mainstream coverage has mainly focused on the admittedly staggering financial rewards Depop can offer its often teenage sellers. Thanks to the promise of potential six-figure salaries, as well as its social media and picture-based use, it's easy to see how Depop has caught on among the Instagram generation.

But to pin Depop's success to these functions would be too technologically determinist – not to mention simplistic. There have always been spaces where fashionable creatives could meet, share and sell, whether it was King's Road in the 1970s, Portobello Road in the 80s or Manchester's Affleck's Palace in the 90s. What Depop has done is provide an online space where this kind of thing can flourish, opening up access and facilitating a very 21st century kind of creative community.

Christie, a 25-year-old from Glasgow who sells under the handle @ChristiesCupboard, agrees. "It feels a lot more like a community than other large platforms, like ASOS. I love how they feature different sellers on the Explore page," she says. Thanks to the money and exposure she’s gained through the app, Christie and a friend launched Mittsu, their own clothing brand, in April. She puts this success down to the platform and community Depop has given her. "They have the finger on the pulse with fashion, and really encourage creativity," she says.

Ella, 24, from Nottingham, feels the same. She's been able to travel around India with money earned via her Depop shop, @SeasonOfElla, and launched her own online shop, also called SeasonsofElla, in early August. She believes the app has tapped into a particular craving for authenticity among her generation. "It feels like you're buying from someone you know because of the social side of it," she says. "You'd never be able to message Boohoo before buying something online to ask for advice on the fit, or chat about how to style an item."

But what happens when things go wrong? The Instagram account @DepopDrama went viral in August for sharing screenshots of some of the most uncomfortable exchanges between buyers and sellers on the app's messaging platform. Giving buyers unprecedented access to sellers has its downsides, namely: outlandish requests and demands for discounts, like 28-week payment plans and 14p sales.

Buyers can also lose out with no one quality-checking sold items. In August, Pretty 52 shared a screenshot that showed a buyer asking a seller why the shoes she'd purchased smelled funny – only to learn this was because the seller's pet cat had urinated on them a couple of months before. Described as the "wild west" of online shopping, this side of the app can be hard to police, and undermines the professionalism and sense of community shared by other users.

"We have clear terms of service, and we exclude users who fail to live up to them," says Rebecca Levy-Lewis, the head of PR at the app. "For example, we do not allow the sending of junk, spam or abusive messages on Depop. We do not allow the selling of any illegal or counterfeit goods, and we only allow transactions to be made through Paypal. User safety is of utmost importance to us and we are constantly tweaking and upgrading our detection algorithms to pick up high-risk content, while also improving education and awareness among our community."

And what of Depop's future? Dool smiles. "Growth," he says. "We're continuing our extension into the USA and then into new markets." If the success of 2019 is anything to go by, he'll get his wish.

@isabel_bull