Meet the young fashion lovers making a mint by trading vintage online
As stores try desperately to entice customers with bargain-busting January Sales, Tanya Sweeney talks to the young trailblazers building their own clothes empires on a fast-growing fashion app
When 22-year-old Donabate native Grainne Binns downloaded the fashion app Depop four years ago, relatively few Irish buyers and sellers were using it.
Yet for the fashion graduate, who now works in design and styling, it provided a handy alternative to overpriced vintage shops in Dublin's city centre. And there were serious bargains to be had: "I remember buying a pair of vintage, barely-worn Reebok shoes for about €30, after seeing them for €100 in town."
Lucan native and master's student Titilola Akande (31) went even one better in terms of lucrative finds: "The best bargain l've ever bought was a pair of vintage Deadstock Levi jeans from the 70s," she enthuses. "They're like a piece of history."
In the last few years, the cohort of young fashion trailblazers that raid their own wardrobes and sell (and buy) on the app has swelled considerably, both in Ireland and elsewhere. Founded in 2011, Depop now boasts 10 million users, a great many of them women aged between 13 and 24, and the site takes more than $400 million (€350m) in sales a year, a figure that has doubled every 12 months. Ireland, according to Rachel Swindenbank, Depop's VP of Marketplace, was among the fastest-growing markets in 2018, and now boasts around 300,000 accounts.
"We've built a product that's mobile-first, and our product really fits with the Gen Z trends," she reveals. "The younger generation are particularly interested in building a side hustle and not following the traditional (work) routes. We've just empowered them to build their own brands and empires."
Young men and women are raiding their own wardrobes (and often, their parents') and selling off what they no longer need. Billed as a more Insta-adjacent alternative to eBay and Gumtree, Depop is a close relative of online marketplaces like Grailed and Thredup, albeit with one difference. Depop, with its filtered, aspirational look, is widely regarded as blazing a serious style trail, and its users are shaking up trends. Want to know what's about to become a huge trend? Depop is one of the best barometers out there.
A study in the US by Thredup suggested there was a 25pc rise in the number of women prepared to buy second-hand in 2017 compared with the year before. The reasons are manifold: Gen Z is tiring of fast-fashion and looking for a more sustainable alternative, and they don't appear to have the reticence about wearing 'pre-loved' items that previous generations might.
"The numbers on how much clothing end up in landfills or how much water it takes to make a new T-shirt is mind-boggling," notes Akande. "Vintage/second-hand clothing is a way to offer people affordable and trendy clothing while keeping vintage clothes out of the landfill. Being mindful about what l buy new is very important."
But even more pertinently, Depop offers young men and women the chance to bag one-off items.
"Irish women are looking for something different," observes Killarney-based Depop seller Hazel O'Malley (44). "I think Irish women are more confident in developing their own style and sometimes that means that what you are looking for isn't on the high street, just because it's not on trend that particular season. From speaking with customers, a lot of them have lived abroad or spent summers away and it has become the norm for them to shop in second-hand stores, markets and yard sales."
Binns sells on her coveted looks from Irish festivals, as featured on her Instagram account. "It's a look that I probably won't wear again," she notes. "People going to music festivals will want to shop smaller, individual brands as they'll want to look different. If I bought an outfit for €150 and wear it once, I'll sell it for €100, and it pays for my festival ticket."
Others, like Clonskeagh-based artist/textile designer Cathy Jackson (26), use the site with an eye trained towards business.
"I've only been selling on Depop for a few months, but have made €100 selling little bits," she says. "I'm a single mum trying to work in the art industry and take care of my child, and I was scratching around for ways to make money. I'm pretty tech-illiterate, but it's the easiest thing I've used in my life. I studied textiles so it's easy for me to make clothes and embellish items."
Akanda, too, admits that the financial potential is a huge part of the appeal: "A big accomplishment for me is having repeat customers," she says. "It's easy to sell once, but to have returning customers who buy multiple items is great. I have a good few girls that are returning customers at the moment and my goal is to increase that number. At first, a lot of the clothes l sold were my own as l already had quite an extensive personal vintage collection. Nowadays, l sell a mix of both and do actively find vintage clothing to upcycle and resell."
O'Malley had already enjoyed a successful stint at co-running a weekly flea market. Moving online was a natural progression. "I had been selling at vintage markets in Dublin, Galway and Cork and this just seemed like the perfect way to reach even more people," she explains. "I source the clothes to sell. I have a vintage shop in Killarney, Hazel's Nuts About Vintage, so the pieces I have in the shop are mostly all for sale on Depop too."
For many years, one-off vintage items made up the bulk of listings, but its Irish sellers have noticed a shift recently.
"I think vintage had a more 'exclusive' meaning years ago, but it's out a bit now, and designer labels are definitely coming back in," says Jackson. "We used to want the alternative, hipster thing, but now people want designer items but can't afford them." Binns echoes this sentiment: "Gucci belts were massive on Depop last year. I've seen people buy Balenciaga runners on Depop for €400 - I looked in Brown Thomas and they were €800."
Yet Akande is adamant that our love affair with vintage looks set to run and run.
"There's a higher appreciation for vintage clothing and the unbeatable quality that's hard to find these days - there's also wanting to own clothes that have a story/history behind them," she notes.
Unlike eBay, Depop operates in much the same way as a social networking site, allowing users to amass followers (and by extension, social cachet), to contact each other and forge a community of sorts.
"It's so personal," says Jackson. "I live in Clonskeagh and one buyer told me he was across the road, and he came to my house and paid the €30 for a Ralph Lauren jumper, and I saved on postage. Presumably as the site gets more mainstream, you might not be able to do that. But the good thing is you can message people for a while beforehand, and you can talk to others about how such and such a guy might have ripped you off," she adds.
Similarly, sellers can take measures to get the most of the Depop experience.
"As with Instagram, if you want more followers, you have to follow more people," says Jackson. "Your listings have to be photographed well, and you don't want to be selling ragged clothes. If there is a small stain on an item, it's best to say so."
Depop is aiming to quadruple the size of the business in the next three or four years. In total, $40m (€30m) has now been ploughed into the company by investors betting on that future, including Octopus Ventures, the company that backed Graze and Gym Box, and Creandum, that backed Spotify and iZettle.
And Jackson has an eye firmly on the site's future: "If I could find the time, I'd love to make original pieces and sell them on there for €20 or €30," she notes. "I think people would definitely pay that - they feel special about handmade items."
For more information see depop.com.