THE BIG BUSINESS OF SECOND-HAND CLOTHES
Depop was launched in 2011 when Simon Beckerman, an Italian entrepreneur, decided to make a new, hip online marketplace by creating an app that merged editorial and sales. He realised most of the decision-making in buying fashion was based on social references. So, his team designed the app with Instagram-style features, with “follow” and “like” buttons, comments and chat, already familiar to social media users.
Twenty-two years after the launch of eBay, an industry has developed around the online resale of clothes. Though there is little data available, ThredUP, a fashion resale website, estimates the value of the “recommerce” market, as it is delicately known, at USD 18 billion in the USA and IBISWorld reckons it is worth around GPB 700 million in the UK. Second hand no longer means bargain. At the luxury end of the spectrum, Vestiaire Collective, allows people to sell their last-season Chanel and Prada; Rebelle, a German company founded in 2013, even provides a concierge service, which evaluates, wraps and dispatches the clothes for you, similar to America's Yogi's Closet or Poshmark.
M-commerce, which means selling through mobile phone is also a growing industry. In 2016, the UK’s m-commerce sales rose 47% year on year, according to IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index. The two phenomena have dovetailed; apps for users selling second-hand clothing have proliferated in the last few years. In China, where WeChat has blazed the way for the integration of shopping and social media, the recommerce market is valued at USD 60 billion. Xian Yu, which was acquired by Alibaba for USD 15 million in 2016, is a social-commerce app which, like Depop, lets users curate a shop, although it’s not focused exclusively on fashion.
Depop is different from other clothes-resale apps in that it markets a seller’s taste as well as their garments. The platform gives equal weight to commerce and socialising, and offers users an opportunity to utilise their creativity and social-media acumen in order to make their shop a success. These shops feel more eclectic and progressive than the high street. Depop encourages users to present their clothes with impeccable styling and photography, and will contact users who have good stock but bad photos to give them tips. Depop has now become a desirable clothing brand for teenagers, even though they don’t actually design, manufacture or sell any clothes themselves, similar to Airbnb not owing any hotels, or Uber not possessing any cars.
Depop actively recruits people with a large social-media following to cement its reputation as a desirable place to shop. Celebrities such as Dita Von Teese and Emily Ratajkowski treat it like another social channel and have opened online stores. Even established online clothes brands such as Monki sell one-off or customised items on the Depop app as a way to reach a younger audience. Last year, around USD 130 million-worth of clothes were sold on Depop and the app has been downloaded 8.5 million times and has 2 million active users a month, mostly in Britain but also in America, Italy and Australia.
“The new generation is much more entrepreneurial. Instead of getting a job as a waiter, they just make their own shop, and maybe something will come out of it,” says Maria Raga, Depop’s CEO. For many, Depop is their first experience of buying and selling. It has allowed teenagers to profit from their own sense of style, social-media presence and an embedded understanding of what their peers want to wear, while learning what it takes to build a business, as the future of both editorial and retail will be in the hands of the individual.