Patrice J Williams/LookinFlyOnADime
Racks of old clothes from people and places unknown. Groups of teens dripping in chains and drowning in baggy vintage jeans and the sound of hangars screeching across metal bars as shoppers try to find the perfect item. The odds are that these were the sights and sounds of your local thrift store or flea market in a pre-COVID-19 age.
In March 2020, as much of the U.S. went into lockdown due to the pandemic, many retail clothing stores shut their doors. Trendy teens accustomed to attending flea markets and visiting local Goodwill shops were forced to stay home and figure out a way to thrift from their couches.
Poshmark, Mercari and Depop, apps where users can buy and sell used clothing items, filled the void. Poshmark caters to people over the age of 30 who thrift brands like Zara and Gap, while Mercari is known for having a wider variety of products, including electronics and home items. Meanwhile, Depop has a mostly Gen-Z userbase interested in fashion-forward clothing.
Launched in 2011, Depop was founded by Simon Beckerman and now has over 21 million users, according to its website.
Depop users can swipe through a variety of pre owned items from people across the world. Items range from old Brandy Melville pieces to vintage windbreakers from the 1980s to brand name sweater vests. The prices depend on the rarity and quality of items. Some t-shirts are priced as low as $5 while a vintage NASCAR jacket can go for up to $550.
Depop has built an identity as an app where trendy teens can find their sense of style and buy from peers who are just as in fashion.
“The thing that makes Depop different is that the app is really aesthetically pleasing. People go on Depop for style inspiration and in the hopes to find a rare piece. People don’t do that on apps like Poshmark. They are looking for specific items,” said Sydny Sky, a 21-year-old Depop seller who lives in Hagerstown, Md.
Sky opened her Depop shop in August and posts 30 to 75 items every week. With high sale rates—as many as 30 items per week—and a large inventory of more than 1,500 pieces of clothing, Sky depends on Depop as her main source of income. Despite the pandemic, she makes a trip to her local thrift store bins every day looking for pieces to sell. Sky uses a professional camera to photograph herself wearing the items and has a loyal audience that waits for new additions to her store on the daily. She has been featured several times on Depop’s “explore” page and has even participated in a few of their Instagram campaigns.
“We had this idea where you could shop an item online, straight from the magazine and people could chat and negotiate inside the app,” said Depop founder Beckerman to Esquire magazine in July 2020. Beckerman said he wanted to create the feeling of an “online flea market” with the app.
“When the lockdown first happened, I think many people had a lot of time to figure out who they want to be and a big part of that is style. And you had this influx of people that were trying to curate their perfect closet all at the same time because they now had the time for it. And they came to Depop,” said Sky.
Nikki Ariki, an 18-year-old Los Angeles-based Depop user said her sales doubled at the start of the pandemic.
“I sold my clothes on Depop pre-COVID-19 and continued to sell throughout the pandemic. And I definitely saw a spike,” she said.
Ariki, a self-proclaimed “closet purger,” spends her days sifting through her old clothes in search of the perfect items to post on her Depop shop. With a small following, she is able to focus heavily on the style and quality of each item in her Depop shop and still make a sizable profit.
“I am really happy about the extra sales that I was able to make because of how much the Depop community has grown especially because I only post a few items a week,” said Ariki.
For some adolescents, Depop is an antidote to the boredom of sitting at home all day.
“I have always used Depop, but I definitely started buying more during COVID-19. It sort of replaced my need for in-person shopping,” said Lea Lopez, a pink-haired Los Angeles teen.
“I would accredit my summer wardrobe to Depop and the crazy amount of free time that I spent scrolling through that app,” said Lopez.
Some teens have even developed a borderline addiction to the app.
“At the beginning of quarantine, I was buying five items off Depop a week because I couldn’t go out and shop. Depop is the most used app on my phone. I would get screen time reports saying that I spent five hours solely on Depop in just one day,” said Janet Maza, a 17- year-old Los Angeles native who says she couldn’t “survive a day without Depop.”
“All of the clothes that I had before COVID-19, I sold all on Depop. I don’t have an actual job and as a college student living at home, Depop became the way that I make money. And I somehow have made over $1,000,” said Maza.
Maza is stuck in a cycle that many other Depop devotees have fallen into.
“So, I sell all of my clothes on Depop and then I spend the money I make on Depop. But then when I get tired of the clothes I bought from Depop, I sell them again on Depop and the cycle never stops. My entire closet is from this app that has taken over my life,” said Maza.