Gen Z designers who helped to popularize Depop now leaving app
When Shirley Tang started selling handmade clothing in 2020, she knew just where to do so online: Depop, an app at the forefront of social shopping.
Tang, 22, began offering $100 to $200 hand-draped mesh and woven tops and skirts in her Depop shop, where her following grew to 24,000. Customers, most of them around her age, traded messages and commentary on the app about her creations as her store caught the attention of magazines and Grammy-winning artists, including SZA and Kali Uchis. Her business surged.
But, this year, Tang began focusing on selling her clothing brand, ORIENS, exclusively on her website. Depop’s popularity had led her to make the same items again and again, she said, hemming her in creatively. And she was tired of the app charging a 10% commission on every item sold.
“I wanted that independent establishment, even if it meant losing out on a little bit of new people who were going to be organically finding my pieces on Depop,” said Tang, a senior at the Parsons School of Design. “To me, that was a worthy sacrifice.”
The onset of the pandemic led Depop to become a springboard for hundreds of millennial and Gen Z designers, including Fancì Club, whose corsets have been worn by celebrities like Olivia Rodrigo, and Gogo Graham, whose designs have moved to the runways of New York Fashion Week. With its Instagram-like interface, through which people can upload and caption photos, follow and message one another and discover curated items, Depop turned into a go-to fashion
marketplace among teenage and 20-something shoppers.
But, like other online shopping businesses that boomed over the past two years, Depop is now confronting the downside of its pandemic-fueled success. Dozens of the creators it helped establish, such as Tang, have started taking the brands they built through the app to other platforms or are leaving the app altogether to establish their own online stores.
That is creating difficulties for Depop as it tries to hang on to a young audience. Having the most sought-after and buzziest designers is crucial to retaining users and growing their number. Younger shoppers are generally less loyal to brands and platforms than older shoppers are, according to market researchers.
Peter Semple, chief brand officer at Depop, which the e-commerce website Etsy bought last year for $1.6 billion, said the pandemic “has certainly driven the scale of our business.” The question regarding the app’s users, he said, has become, “How do we remain interesting and present to them so they continue to be part of the Depop ecosystem?”
Depop said it had 30
million registered users last year, up from 13 million in 2019. About 90% of its active users are under the age of 26. Its revenue more than doubled to $70 million in 2020 from a year earlier. The app declined to share more recent figures; Etsy doesn’t separately disclose Depop’s financial information.
Depop was founded in 2011 by Simon Beckerman, an entrepreneur, as a website where anybody could sell anything. It soon built a reputation for selling used clothing. By 2015, Semple said, Depop was benefiting from Gen Z coming online and was building its platform to be more interactive.
But, over time, some Depop sellers began looking to grow their businesses beyond the app. Brianna Lopez, 25, from Winnetka, California, said she struggled to connect with the customers of her Depop shop, That Valley Girl. Last year, she joined Instagram. On Depop, most of her interactions with customers happened only when they wanted to buy something, Lopez said. But on Instagram, she said, she could share more personal moments from her life through features like Stories so “people get a feel of who I am and who they’re buying from.”*