The Depop Revolution and Sustainable Fashion

Depop is the online thrift store taking the world by storm, but is it really all it's cracked up to be?



As the concept of ethical consumerism has grown progressively in recent years, the new and trendy ‘sustainable shopper’ identity has developed. While those who can afford to buy their clothes from bespoke, slow-fashion retailers do so with pride, those who can’t often turn their attention to second-hand sites like Depop. A far cry from the fast fashion high street stores that rely on greenwashing to market their products to the sustainable shopper, Depop has revolutionised online consumerism for the eco-conscious clothing buyer. Taking inspiration from eBay’s basic foundation, Depop is an online marketplace that allows sellers and buyers to partake in an environmentally friendly exchange of second-hand or handmade goods for profit.


However, as Depop’s seller and consumer-base has grown, the number of scammers and untrustworthy users on the site have too. Although having been originally invented as a way to offer an alternative to fast fashion at an equal price, Depop has become somewhat of a minefield for buyers searching for second-hand items that are both reasonably priced and of good quality. A quick scroll down the app’s homepage will reveal a slew of clothing items from ‘vintage’ and ‘designer’ to ‘Primark’ and ‘Shein’. While the reselling of fast fashion pieces is certainly nothing to turn your nose up at, the reselling of fast fashion pieces under the title ‘super cute Y2K rare vintage clueless vibes’ presents an issue that is becoming increasingly prominent in the Depop community.


Since the recent nostalgia-fuelled fascination toward 90s and 00s fashion began, buzzwords such as ‘Y2K’, ‘vintage’, ‘retro’, and ‘rare’ have been floating around the website with no sense of direction or real meaning. And while many Depop sellers have taken to selling old clothes or second-hand charity-shop finds for a slight profit, other sellers have begun using the site as a way to essentially scam consumers. These sellers often work by finding aesthetically fitting items on sites such as Shein or Aliexpress to sell under the same ‘rare’ ‘Y2K’ pretence as those selling genuine vintage items. These sellers ‘drop-ship’ their items, meaning that they order a large amount of a certain piece for a remarkably low price to then market as ‘vintage’, ‘rare’ or worse, ‘handmade’ at prices upwards of £30. Meanwhile, other sellers have been known to stalk through the rails of Oxfam to find similar ‘vintage’ items that can be resold at ten times the price originally paid.


This presents an issue on two fronts. The first is an ethical concern towards the overt level of deceit which these Depop scammers maintain as they knowingly upsell fast, child-labour created fashion under the guise of ethical consumption and sustainability. The other is a concern regarding the essential theft of available options for those unable to afford the increasingly extortionate Depop prices. These sellers are making the accessibility of sustainable, ethical second-hand consumption a near impossible feat without falling victim to one of these treacherous trades. By taking away genuinely affordable options from their source and inflating their price on a supposedly affordable app, the divide between sustainability and affordability increases, driving more people towards fast fashion as a more viable option.


Moreover, Depop is fast becoming a place where people can sell off stockpiled collections of fast fashion pieces. Recently, H&M released a small collection in collaboration with esteemed British designer brand The Vampire’s Wife. The collection, made predominantly with recycled fabrics and eco-friendly materials, allowed those typically unable to fork out hundreds and thousands for a designer dress to get their hands on one for a portion of the price. Unsurprisingly, the collection was a huge success, and the pieces sold out almost immediately. Fortunately, for those unlucky few who were not quite quick enough to get their hands on the items at source, the Depop sellers were ready and waiting to help. A quick scroll through the Vampire’s Wife x H&M tag on Depop could reveal a multitude of items from the collection being resold for a mere twice the original marked price! Isn’t that lucky?

H&M's Instagram post promoting its collaboration with The Vampire's Wife.

Despite Depop’s downfalls, the sustainable second-hand fashion trend is hopefully one which is here to stay. However, in order for it to become truly revolutionary as a fashion-forward concept, a number of important tweaks need to be made to the site and its persecution of shifty sellers. First, it must be realised that the ‘vintage’ Burberry trench coat with holes in the sleeves and three buttons missing should not be being sold at a £100 profit compared to a brand-new one, merely because of its worn-out age. A children’s Disney T-shirt should not be sold as a ‘rare Y2K’ item for the price of £70, especially if it wouldn’t even cover the chest of someone bigger than a size 6. Second, the Depop screening process needs a serious makeover. Sellers should not be allowed to get away with the clear displays of dishonesty and fraud that are currently seen in their promotion of drop-shipped clothes.


Although the steady ethical downfall of an app formed on the foundation of consumerism is not that surprising, it is disheartening to see the lengths of deceit that certain sellers will go to in order to make a little extra money. The main appeal of second-hand apps such as Depop is their ability to promote a more ethical basis of consumerism. Despite its evident flaws, this is an aspect of the app which I believe could hopefully still be maintained.


Ultimately, the platform has given somewhat of a saving grace to those struggling through COVID-19 lockdowns, offering a profitable opportunity to those using the extra time to sort through belongings or to get rid of excess clutter. Depop has given many a real chance to create successful businesses or receive a little extra money for old, discarded items that may now be enjoyed by someone else. So why should this be spoiled by the inconsiderate actions of a minute few? Though Depop scammers are prevalent, and are not to be ignored, they are only one portion of a much larger, much better app that is working to take big steps toward progressing and sustaining our environmental future.