Depop Is the New Instagram — but Not in a Good Way
A few months ago, I decided to sell a pair of jeans that no longer fit me on Depop, a resale app popularized by Gen Z. Immediately, I received a message from someone inquiring about the pants, but who first wanted to see what they looked like on a body — my body. Having gained weight during the pandemic, I scrolled to find photos from when the pair did fit, two years ago. With the new photos added, the shorts sold quickly. But with that transaction I suddenly became aware of the need to present my body, if only as a mannequin, in order to sell clothing. It felt a bit unnerving.
Unlike the resale platforms before it, Depop is unique in its prioritization of presentation. Depop users don't want flat lay photos of T-shirts taken from above, they want highly stylized, look-book quality images. On Depop, you're not just selling clothing — you're selling a personal brand, a lifestyle. In other words, Depop is basically Instagram, but with more transparency about the fact that it's selling you stuff.
With roughly 30 million registered users across nearly 150 countries, Depop is dominating the online marketplace next to competitors like Poshmark, Ebay, and Mercari. In fact, according to a poll conducted by New York Magazine's The Strategist, Depop is the favorite resell app among people under the age of 26. That's a lot of influence.
Like Instagram and Twitter, Depop features a constantly updated feed that lets shoppers scroll infinitely through items based on their interests. If you're in the mood for Y2K fashion, for example, you can simply search "Y2K" and follow "stores" curated by individual sellers. "Top sellers" — people who sell 50 or more items at an average of $20 per piece over the course of four months, and therefore earn a blue check mark — will typically rank higher in users' feeds. Basically, if you're a top seller, your blue check mark pretty much guarantees not only followers, but enough to make rent.
But the pressure to ascend to Depop's top tier — or even just to make a bit of cash on the side — isn't always as easy as putting on a piece of clothing and taking a selfie. Like in my experience, sometimes the clothes don't fit. It can be a slippery slope from wondering if your clothing is on-trend to wondering if your body is the reason your clothes don't sell.
"[Depop] is similar to Instagram in the way that you build your following through your images and feedback," adds Depop user Rebekka Torshamar, who co-runs a plus-size vintage shop with Yana Garcia-Mander. "I can see why people would then start to compare themselves to other sellers and wonder why they aren't doing as well."
Emma Norland, who goes by bucktooth on the app, says in a TikTok video that Depop has definitely exacerbated her body dysmorphia as a user. "I definitely do consider on a day-to-day basis ways to modify my appearance in order to be more successful," she says. Others voice similar frustrations on the r/Depop sub Reddit, which has over 43,000 members.
Like Instagram, Depop has a "like" function, and private messaging, leaving sellers vulnerable to predatory behavior and bullying, all of which that can lead to insecurity and low self-esteem, especially in its young users.
Fashion trends also play a role in who has the chance to become a top seller. The current trend focus on Y2K fashion comes with Y2K troubles — during the early-2000s, there weren't nearly as many on-trend plus-size retailers as exist today.
"It does feel that a lot of the time the top sellers or the ones to look out for usually sell smaller sizes and not specifically plus-size," says Garcia-Mander. Adds Torshamar, "I think this also makes plus-size women feel like Depop isn't somewhere that they are able to easily shop. When scrolling, [smaller bodies are] what you see more of."
From a business standpoint, plus-size sellers may also face a disadvantage when it comes to finding plus-sized clothes in vintage stores. Teens clearing out thrift stores take larger sizes with them to sell, seeing as oversized clothes are the fashion fad now. This buying and selling method has been called fashion gentrification, where wealthy sellers flip cheaper clothes for profit at the expense of low-income individuals. On top of taking merchandise away from plus-size individuals, people now call out excessive thrift shopping as the cause for increasing prices in secondhand stores.
While fashion trends are beyond their control, there are things that app can do to make shopping and selling more accessible for people of all sizes, and less troubling for those who want to participate without necessarily showing their bodies. The explore page, which is curated by Depop's editorial team, could benefit from greater diversity of images, and less focus on the subjective "photo quality" requirement. Currently, there is a petition for Depop to begin treating clothing on mannequins and on hangers with the same favor as those on bodies. Rose Macdonald, the petition's author, notes that "this creates the kind of environment where conventionally attractive people become top sellers based on their looks," at the expense of disabled sellers and sellers with size-inclusive stores.
Earlier this summer, Etsy purchased Depop for $1.6 billion in an effort to tap into Gen Z. Perhaps a fresh start will mean a change for the better.
Update, Aug. 30, 2021: A representative from Depop issued the following statement to InStyle regarding their curation practices:
"Our mission is to build the world's most progressive and diverse home for fashion. The Depop community is filled with over 30 million people from all walks of life, of every shape and size, who we believe are transforming fashion for the better. Diversity has always been fundamental to our business and we see our platform as a tool to equalize entry into the fashion world, allowing people to connect, discover and get inspired on their terms.
We encourage our sellers to merchandise their items in many different ways to merchandise their items to reflect their style and personality. Thousands of our most successful sellers use flat lays, display on hangers, or work with friends and family members to model their items.
Ensuring that every individual feels included within the Depop experience is something we consistently think about, and we are always working to deliver new ways of fully representing the diversity of our audience."