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How Depop Is Globalizing Gen Z Fashion Culture and What Retail Brands Can Learn

  • Text Grace Antino
  • Design Anna Eastman

At 21 years old, Christie Eccles, a London–based Depop seller, upgraded her side hustle to a full-time position when her virtual storefront, Christie’s Cupboard, started generating more income than her part-time job. In the years since, she has built a global network of 101k followers with her self-described mix of “‘90s, Y2K and classic pieces,” sold an estimated 1,000 items and has become a household name to users on the platform.

Eccles is just the start. Resale apps, specifically Depop, are globalizing Gen Z fashion culture through an international, digital shopping experience tailored to identity creation. Depop’s accessibility and endless range of products allow people to buy and sell fashion all over the world like never before. This has resulted in a borderless language of style once dominated by a monoculture of major movie or music releases. Culture’s lingua franca is no longer The Avengers, it’s the ‘90s baguette bag. And as they search for unique pieces to match the ever-shifting aesthetics coming out of the trend funnel, young creatives and entrepreneurs have formed a new community of peer-to-peer consumers. Gen Z makes up 90% of active Depop users (30M+ registered users in over 150 countries) who are reimagining “new”-ness, embracing the unique and overlooked and displaying strong desires to purchase from morally ethical and sustainable businesses.

These platforms have decentralized the practice of brick-and-mortar thrifting, transforming it into a global consumer experience. Secondhand shopping is expected to grow 127% by 2026, with online resale proving to be the fastest-growing sector, projected to grow nearly four times by 2026, according to a 2022 report from ThredUp.

Depop’s draw isn’t merely commercial: Beyond buying and selling internationally, users have the ability to engage in conversations through the platform’s chat features, enhancing global exposure and connectivity while simultaneously developing their personal style.

- Grace Antino, D1A

These platforms have decentralized the practice of brick-and-mortar thrifting, transforming it into a global consumer experience. Secondhand shopping is expected to grow 127% by 2026, with online resale proving to be the fastest-growing sector, projected to grow nearly four times by 2026, according to a 2022 report from ThredUp. Depop’s draw isn’t merely commercial: Beyond buying and selling internationally, users have the ability to engage in conversations through the platform’s chat features, enhancing global exposure and connectivity while simultaneously developing their personal style.

Gen Z’s desire to be at the forefront of whatever is new and individualized has sparked growth in the sale of items influenced by rapidly changing trends, such as oversized leather jackets, sheer dresses and cowboy boots. Even with the proliferation of fast fashion from brands like Shein and Zara, the retail fashion industry, outside of the luxury market, is struggling to keep up with the growing preference for resale popularized by social platforms such as TikTok. In contrast, resale marketplaces offer a variety of items that span cultures, decades, styles, genders, sizes and more. Instead of waiting for large fashion corporations to mass produce on-trend items or shifting through endless products at thrift stores, Gen Z takes advantage of curated secondhand apps to creatively craft the looks they want. If one doesn’t see their desired identity within the retail market, they have the ability to formulate such identity through the secondhand market.

The influence of social media sites, such as Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok, during Gen Z’s formative years of identity creation has led to not only a deluge of visual inspiration to draw from, but new ways to create a style identity. Gen Z’s obsession with categorizing and labeling their aesthetic interests has transformed niche subcultures into mainstream trends across the world.

@converse Get ready with @kyrakilla, #gorpcore edition ✔️Complete the look with the #converse ♬ original sound - Converse

For example, gorpcore, the name deriving from slang for trail mix (Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts), is a trend defined by functional outdoor wear, such as cargo pants, utility jackets, hiking boots and fleeces, as well as brands like North Face, Arc’teryx and Carhartt. When there are a variety of ways to potentially embody the aesthetic (such as layering on a jacket or a donning pair of trail-ready boots), resale apps with a wide range of products and brands allow a customer to effortlessly incorporate gorpcore into their own wardrobe. Depop even identifies items that reflect the trend, collecting them into a folder in the app’s search page, to further cement the trend in the mainstream.

While resale apps are creating a unified language of fashion among Gen Z as they discuss their latest vintage t-shirt purchases on TikTok over new TV shows or events like the Super Bowl, international sales are proving to be a successful way for them to support themselves. According to Eccles, who keeps a hefty stock of oversized leather jackets and tiny sunglasses, “People all over the world are buying my products in bulk. International sales make up 30% of my total sales, if not more. I am consistently shipping to the US, Switzerland, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia [and] Australia, among others.” In addition to selling globally, her product curation is derived from international sources, with a large percentage of inventory coming from suppliers in Italy and Thailand.

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With the global secondhand apparel market expected to grow three times faster than the global apparel market overall, retail brands are sprinting to keep up. Despite the move towards secondhand, brand affinity isn’t changing. Users employ apps to search for reduced prices and vintage pieces from their favorite brands, and 62% of Gen Z and Millennials say they look for an item secondhand before purchasing it brand-new.

Sinead Chang, a 22-year-old Brand Coordinator at Day One Agency, says she hunts for hyper-specific items on resale sites. “I won’t buy things when I see them in retail stores, but will keep them in mind and search for them on the apps a few months later when the season has ended.” She adds that she buys her favorite brands secondhand because she knows her sizing and can find desired pieces for a more affordable price while also being more sustainable by purchasing a used garment.

Brands don’t necessarily have to let go of their north stars for radically different environmental initiatives or brick-and-mortar and website strategies. Rather, they can utilize resale apps as a channel of communication to speak to Gen Z.

Earlier this year, Tommy Hilfiger introduced a partnership with Depop after they saw increased interest in their fashion label on the app due to the rise in ’90s and Y2K trending aesthetics. The brand launched a campaign called “Made by Tommy, Styled by Depop” and opened a shop under their own moniker. The items for sale are from their take-back program, launched to boost acircular model, plus damaged pieces from retail and e-commerce stores. Circular fashion, for those new to the term, is a more sustainable production approach, which reduces waste by giving items new lives through resale, clothing swaps and DIY redesign and uses recycled materials to create new products. Another brand embracing this practice is Juicy Couture. In tandem with the increasing demand for Y2K aesthetic, the company launched Rejuiced, a peer-to-peer resale platform that allows customers to sell (and buy) previously owned Juicy Couture clothing and accessories, including their coveted velour tracksuits. Both moves are intelligent and nuanced ways to appeal to Gen Z’s preferred shopping habits.

ThredUp reports that nearly three out of four retail executives say they have or are open to offering secondhand wares to their customers, an increase from 2020. As 45% of Gen Z and Millennials say they’re more likely to shop with a brand that offers secondhand clothing alongside new offerings, this is a strategic way to communicate with this cohort as well as essential to maintaining revenue in a changing market.

Outside of leveraging Depop as a communication channel, retail brands can also take notes from resellers’ marketing techniques. Gen Z favors authenticity and transparency in the media they consume, and champions imperfection rather than the overproduced, edited or “filtered.” Most often, Depop sellers post lo-fi iPhone photos of themselves wearing the items they are selling, or simply capture the products in their homes. This breaks down the wall between merchant and consumer, making the experience of shopping feel much more casual and intimate, as well as building customer loyalty and trust.

When I asked Eccles why she decided to market her pieces on her own body, she explained, “When I’m scrolling through Depop, I gravitate towards products I see on people because you can see how the piece fits and hangs. People want to look at real people. It is more engaging.” She added that the “real life” element is also why she started to use TikTok as a supplemental advertising tool. “It is amazing for marketing my business, because people are more nosy now. They are interested in the behind the scenes of the business, my studio and my day-to-day.”

The appeal of transparency isn’t new, and has proven to be effective through influencer marketing, but lessons can be applied to traditional e-commerce as well. Gen Z is drawn to brands that they can see themselves reflected in. As reported by Vogue Business, Asal Tehrani, owner of UK–based clothing brand Susamusa, says her photos have much higher engagement rates when she appears in them herself, despite her designs also being worn by celebrities like Bella Hadid and Addison Rae. Retailers can tap into this authenticity-driven advertising method to sell clothing, regardless of whether they are a large corporation or an independent small business.

In addition to lo-fi, socially-native advertising, the Depop algorithm caters to Gen Z’s affinity for digital personalization and shortened attention spans. The app opens to a central page called “My DNA,” with items curated for the user based on their likes, past purchases and previous engagement with items or sellers, circumventing the traditionally time-consuming hunt for clothes and creating a customized shopping interface, whether the pieces are shipping from Australia or Kansas.

In a world of hyper-personalized media, retail brands can learn from Depop’s “bespoke” experience—employing algorithm tools to instantly present items tailored to one’s style, location and sizing preferences.

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Gen Z is only amassing more buying power as they age further into their twenties, establish themselves in their careers and solidify their consumer and style identities. At the moment, their shopping behavior is inspired by the ever-changing fashion trends circulating on TikTok, with Depop as the platform to purchase unique and niche products to “get the look” and articulate their personal style. Both apps’ global presence creates a shared fashion language amongst this group, despite their geographical location, with Depop allowing Gen Z members to foster international communities of like-minded people through their sale, purchase and chat features. Where secondhand was once central to the physical location of the buyer, Depop opens up the world to resale.

If resale is Gen Z’s primary way to shop, brands should lean into unique ways to hack their favorite platforms. One approach could be to embrace the circular model, producing garments with recycled fabrics and tapping small business owners to develop unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. Recruiting popular designers on the app, such as Lindsay Vrckovnik or Brianna Lopez, for limited-edition drops has the potential to continue to build brand trust with Gen Z. Depop is also a space ripe for influencer marketing. Leveraging campaign personalities as either brand ambassadors for a company’s own Depop shop, or seeding product to theirs, could be an authentic way to build credibility with Gen Z on the platform. Last year, musician Charli XCX collaborated with Depop on her very own shop, and novelist Ottessa Mosfegh has built a large organic following around hers, proving that even a selling app is a channel to connect with fans. And while scrollers around the world are tapping in to find the ultimate pair of jeans or throwback ballet flats among a sea of items, your offering could be the diamond in the rough.