First launched in 2011, fashion app Depop has gained a name for itself as a more sustainable and quirkier alternative to fast fashion brands. Boasting 21 million+ users, the app is clearly profiting from concerns about sustainability and climate change. But it may be time to acknowledge the flaws of such a business – in actuality, Depop can be seen to be gentrifying second hand options, and taking items away from high street charity shops where they are accessible to the average shopper.
Struggles of class and environmentalism are often overlooked in the discussion of sustainability, particularly in relation to fast fashion. But these issues are intertwined, and it is impossible to examine fashion and ecology without also seeing class struggle as inextricably linked. A desire to be ‘thrifty’ and begin a move away from fast fashion has always been an aim of mine; when I discovered Depop last year, I was entranced by the pops of colour, the hashtags, the allure of a new identity based on unique, vintage items. But it wasn’t long until I began to spot the problems enmeshed in the buying and selling of items easily found in charity shops.
Whilst a pair of flares in my local Age UK was on sale for £4, similar pairs were sold on Depop accounts for £30. Whilst I understand that this can be an effective way to build up a second-hand clothing business, at what point does this method of selling become exploitative? For many, charity shop clothing offers a much more affordable option; taking these items away from shoppers unless they pay extortionate prices seems wholly unfair. And with an increasing pressure on fashion lovers to be shopping ethically, Depop appears to be one of the more socially acceptable options.
For my generation, Depop clothing can be its own new form of virtue signalling – when a friend outside my seminar asks where I got my coat, I shrug it off, ‘Oh, it’s just from Depop’. In other words, these items are a way to show you care about the planet enough to buy second hand, but that you also have that bit of extra cash to splurge on set items. Similarly, I have found that certain vintage items are only considered fashionable dependent on who is wearing them. In a classist twist, working class people are unfairly labelled because of their choice of brands and clothing, whilst a middle-class person wearing this same outfit is labelled ‘edgy’.
Moreover, many Depop sellers rely on the modern love of aesthetics, fuelled by Instagram and Tiktok trends, many of which are problematic in their own ways. The hashtags are endless, a great way to build traffic on sellers’ pages, ranging from ‘y2k’ to ‘cottage core’ to ‘dark academia’. These particular looks and aesthetics have suddenly become inaccessible to most of us, and they promote a particular look – that of the thin, white, able-bodied woman. For those of us who do not fit into this mould, options on Depop are at best limited, at worst completely unavailable. Depop sellers often buy larger sizes from charity shops and alter them to make them smaller, or sell them as ‘oversized’.
In this way, it is easy to end up gatekeeping vintage and cheaper fashion. Whilst the fashion industry has never been a champion of diversity, I believe the move towards second hand fashion is a way to combat this, but only if we insist on making this option available to all. Second hand fashion is quickly becoming a strange paradox, whereby these options are in fact becoming more elitist than branded, fast fashion items. The move away from fast fashion and acceptance of second-hand clothing in my generation is overwhelmingly positive and shows clear progress, but we must make sure that we are keeping fashion options open for all along the way.