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Depop: greenwashing fast fashion or sustainability?

By Carlota Rodriguez

Depop: a platform that promises to fulfil all our y2k fashion dreams as well as help us save the planet, becoming the mecca of online shopping for most Phoebe Buffay resembling uni students around Hyde Park.

We know and love it, often choosing it above high street shops in a conscious effort to be a part of the sustainable fashion movement that is slowly starting to change the industry; perhaps as a feeble attempt to engage in some form of circular economy that will make our shopping addictions a little more environmentally friendly.

Since its launch in 2012, the app has quickly become a go-to reselling platform for people in the UK, US, Italy and Australia. It was the March 2020 lockdown, however, that dramatically boosted its popularity. Thanks to the cleaning out of wardrobes and new small business ideas that came out of many weeks in isolation, along with trends on TikTok and Youtube that also publicised the app, demand has doubled in the last year.

Yet this rise in popularity has been mirrored in a rise in criticism. The gentrification of the online marketplace has repeatedly been condemned through social media platforms. Deeming old Brandy Melville clothing items as “rare”, and then selling them for double their original price (sometimes more), completely contradicts what is understood as the principle of the app, making it inaccessible for people with less means.

In line with this, the reselling of clothing items bought from charity shops and again, sold for much more than their original price, is also debated. Many claim that not only does this contribute to Depop’s increasing exclusivity, it is also morally questionable. Are we depriving people in need of access to affordable clothing items?

Debates surrounding these issues is, of course, contended. The “Brandy Melville phenomenon” is arguably not a Depop issue, but simply a reflection of growing global consumerism and trend-obsession. There is also a lot of time and effort behind most Depop shops; hand-picking items, engaging with customers, styling pictures and managing logistics and sales are all time-consuming work that should receive compensation, justifying in turn the increase in price to make profit.

However, more recently the online platform has been subject to another controversy, and that is the issue of greenwashing. Depop is self-defined as “a global community of buying, selling and connecting to make fashion more inclusive, diverse and less wasteful”. In January, it published a new sustainability strategy; essentially a two-year plan where it vows to take action regarding the climate crisis, “striving to be climate neutral” and offering priority to ethical and environmentally friendly brands. Yet, as of now, although the intention may be laudable, the reality of it seems somewhat different.

Fast fashion reselling, especially from brands like AliExpress or Shein, which mainly mass produce in high polluting factories in China and other developing countries (and many of which have been accused of child labour and slave-like working conditions), is becoming alarmingly frequent. Cheap and on trend, these shops quickly gain followers and become very popular. Consequently, many of them get verified, a privilege that is reserved mainly for Depop Top Sellers and Community Leaders (basically, successful shops that are at high risk of being impersonated online).

The issue is problematic because through promoting these shops, Depop is essentially acting as another link in the fast fashion product chain, which contributes to over 10% of the world's yearly carbon emissions and is the second largest water consumer. The same chain it has openly advocated against, and who’s actions it has used to present itself as a more ethical, creative and original alternative.

This problem has also started to raise eyebrows within the Depop community.

Katy Boyle, the owner of a very successful Depop shop selling 90s and 00s pieces (@katyboyle), with over 7k followers, and passionate about sustainability has recently spoken out on the issue on her social media. Through a letter addressed to the company which she has posted online, also creating a template to encourage other sellers to do the same, she questions the company’s new strategy and contradictory policies. “You cannot claim an ethical narrative whilst continuing to spotlight AliExpress sellers, as these sellers simultaneously contribute to the violation of basic human rights and the degradation of the environment,” she writes, “you need to start spotlighting sellers that speak passionately about sustainability, upcycling and repairing clothing and keeping already made clothing in circulation.

She also talks about how the growth of fast fashion drop shipping is harming the app’s image and undermining the work of legitimate sellers as it becomes increasingly hard to find actual, original, second hand and vintage clothing.

It is no surprise that the number of online marketplaces like Depop is growing exponentially. It is also predictable that due to this, some users are choosing to try out other alternatives, like Vinted or Esooko, or Facebook groups like HAZAAR, to buy and sell their clothes.

Still, Depop remains one of the most extensive and varied shopping platforms to date, where we are sure to find exactly what we are looking for. One which has undoubtedly done a lot for circular fashion and encouraging second-hand shopping worldwide, as well as growing small independent businesses, and which most of us still support and love.

We are left to wonder whether the company will gradually strive towards improving its policies and act on issues such as those brought up by Katy and many other active members of its own community or if it will be surpassed by other, newer and perhaps more environmentally conscious, marketplaces . I believe I speak for many of us devotees when I say we hope it will be the former, and the app will continue to grow, becoming a key figure in the move towards a more sustainable, eco-friendly and non-polluting fashion industry.

Katy Boyle’s socials: @katyboyledepop on Instagram and @katyboyle on Depop

Link to Katy’s letter template:

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