As with so many things, Mum was right. For a decade, she insisted that I keep most of my old clothes at her house just in case they came back in fashion. Her argument was that it cost nothing (unless you count the mental toll of being reminded what a pillock you looked in the 2000s) and that one day, I could keep up with the latest trends simply by “shopping in the cupboard”.
Oh, how I laughed. Surely my most tragic gear from the 2000s had been permanently outlawed by the fashion police.
But I’m glad I listened to Mum because she was ahead of the curve, anticipating a boom in vintage and sustainability that’s transformed not just fashion but how young people view work and money today.
I’ve reaped the rewards of my noughties wardrobe (or “peak Y2K”, as the kids call it) in more ways than one. The items that don’t fit anymore can be sold to the highest bidder on Depop, the clothes re-selling app that is the Wet Leg to eBay’s Take That. If you don’t get that reference, you really aren’t its target market.
Depop, founded in 2011, came into its own during the Covid lockdowns, when shut-down retail and a dormant labour market forced young people to be imaginative. Millions turned to a marketplace that marries the visual pizazz of social media with the alluring opportunities of a listings website.
Such an offer appeals to both sides of the Gen Z ledger (90 per cent of Depop users are under 26). Young buyers who hate high street homogeneity can shop for a unique style with impeccable eco-credentials on a budget. Sellers can profit from clearing out their closet, selling on bargains found in local charity shops (known as re-thrifting) or even making and repurposing their own gear.
Sounds like a win-win scenario. No wonder Depop has attracted 4 million active buyers and 2 million sellers. Some earn so much on the platform (upwards of $2,600, or £2,270 a month before fees) that they have given up their jobs and gone full-time as ‘top sellers’.
But the Depop dream might not last. Users are waking up to a fast-changing vintage market, one in which price gouging, gentrification and corporate greed are becoming commonplace. Both buyers and sellers are increasingly disillusioned with a reselling platform that – like many creatures of tech capitalism – could become a victim of its own success.
The biggest current problem is unreasonable markups. Sellers now brag on social media about selling clothes for £30 when they were originally bought from a charity shop for just a few quid, and shabby items don’t always come with the discounts you’d expect.
This doesn’t just undermine trust and distort value – it threatens to price low-income buyers out of the vintage market altogether. The Retail Gazette reported concerns earlier this year that charity shops are becoming aware of the re-thrifting phenomenon and are charging more for sellable items – something I have noticed on my own trips to charity shops.
Kudos to the charity sector for maximizing their income. But there’s a danger that lower-income shoppers will have to make do with poor quality fast fashion, which now clogs up the rails and can’t be given away (hence why most of it ends up in landfill in third world countries).
But an even bigger crisis may be looming. Last year, Depop was bought by the US e-commerce giant Etsy, which runs its own online marketplace for craftspeople, artists, and vintage sellers. Since Etsy went public in 2015, it has made several changes that have boosted profits but squeezed sellers. These have included raising fees from 3.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent and enrolling sellers into an offsite advertising wheeze (compulsory for some), allowing Etsy to take an extra cut worth up to 15 per cent.
Nearly 30,000 sellers protested by going on strike and encouraging a consumer boycott for a week in April. However, Etsy recently posted buoyant earnings for the second quarter of 2022, with chief executive Josh Silverman saying the changes had no noticeable impact on its seller base.
Is this the future for Depop? Its current flat fee of 10 per cent is already causing grumbles (particularly since it’s mandatory to use either Paypal or Depop’s own payments system, which deducts another 2.95 per cent plus 30p).
But Depop seems like a paragon of transparency next to Etsy, which takes a 16.5 per cent cut from an item sold for £12 in the UK with free shipping. And that’s not an all-in-one charge. It’s only worked out once you add up listing, transaction, regulatory and payment processing fees, plus all the extra VAT they accrue.
If Depop copied this playbook, it would put considerably more pressure on sellers at a time when shipping costs are rising, and buyers are tightening their belts. The obvious response would be to raise prices. But I can’t imagine the market withstanding that for long if quality second-hand clothing were to become a considered purchase only available to the well-off.
Perhaps Depop can remain genuinely cheap, trusted and… well… cool. But perhaps it’s wise for young sellers to start diversifying their income stream now, rather than become too reliant on tech platforms that may end up wielding far more power than they expect.