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Covid-19 has devastated the UK’s youth labour market, with under-35s accounting for almost 80% of jobs lost in 2020. Digital entrepreneurs, however, have benefited particularly during lockdowns due to increased online traffic. Depop sellers are no exception: during the pandemic, sales soared, cushioning the impact for sellers who were furloughed or made redundant from other part-time jobs. Since 2014, I’ve been a seller on Depop, and over the last year I’ve worked as a researcher for the Digit Research Centre at the University of Sussex, examining the platform’s transformation of the British youth labour market.
The platform is particularly attractive to young people concerned with environmental sustainability, ethnic diversity, and size inclusivity, as well as getting top brands at reduced prices because they are ‘preloved’. Depop’s recent acquisition by its rival Etsy, valued at £1.1bn, exemplifies the rapid growth in value of this sector, the increasing global demand for second-hand clothing, and ‘slow’ fashion.
Depop’s platform: my story, support, and skills
I created my business in 2014 (@monicarichards), at the ripe old age of 14. With minimal work experience under my belt, as well as no understanding of consumer trends, logistical cost, or the nature of e-commerce transactions, I delved into the world of the digital economy. Over the course of 6 years, I’ve sold nearly 1,000 products, ranked number 360 out of 2 million sellers worldwide (based on traffic and sales figures), and developed a plethora of skills equipping me for future work. I predominantly sell second-hand womenswear sourced from vintage markets, charity shops, and kilo sales.
The application is, in theory, accessible to all who own a digital device. One of Depop’s most commonly cited attractive qualities is its ease of use, particularly with the speed at which you can list items to sell. The platform’s algorithm, coupled with the support of a team working for Depop, aids with marketing your products and boosting your profitability.
Sellers who generate revenue streams above Depop’s threshold of £2,000, or sell 50 items above £15 for four consecutive months, are officiated as ‘Top Sellers’. Those who are close to the threshold may be invited onto an exclusive programme called ‘Rising Stars’. Both of these schemes offer mentorship opportunities with successful sellers, 1-2-1 support from Depop staff, and increased exposure on the application. For young and often inexperienced entrepreneurs, this is an excellent method to incentivise and educate their self-employed user base.
Young people who actively engage with selling on the platform foster a wealth of transferable skills. Examples include product presentation, social media engagement and content creation, creativity, understanding market dynamics, problem-solving, procurement, scaling up businesses, and customer service.
Sellers’ perspectives: profitability and Covid
This year, I worked for the Digit Research Centre investigating Depop’s role in shaping youth employment opportunities in the UK, focusing on the supply side and work experience of other sellers. I interviewed 20 sellers and the platform’s Chief of Staff, to gain a perspective on the lived work experiences of sellers who consider their roles to be part or full-time.
In case you weren’t already convinced of the platform’s profitability: some of the top sellers interviewed quoted annually earning six-figure incomes. One, aged 23, earned £26,000 per month, capitalising on her international connections to source and resell high-end pieces. Another, aged 24, has a monthly revenue of £12,000 from reselling streetwear shoes – photos of which are taken against his simple kitchen cupboard.
Although sellers cited procurement and supply chain difficulties due to delayed postage and troubles securing stock, the increased footfall on the platform generated extensive profit and growth in engagement, particularly during the lockdowns in April and November 2020.
Sustainability: the heart of Gen Z consumption patterns
Sustainability is one of the platform’s core values:
“The biggest challenge is that there’s still so much fast fashion consumption, and resale isn’t always at the centre of the mind to a lot of people. It’s all about getting people onboard the mission and realising that you don’t have to trade off style to consume fashion sustainably.”– Chidi Onwudike, Chief of Staff at Depop
Those interviewed cited a range of environmentally-conscientious differences made to either their procurement or supply chains. For example, the usage of biodegradable or reused packaging, upcycling old garments or materials to resell, or sourcing deadstock items that would otherwise be sent to a landfill. It is therefore evident why this platform attracts young people globally: consideration of the environment is a core, post-materialist value held by many adolescents.
Consumption patterns have also shifted as a result of Depop’s surge in popularity, particularly amongst Gen Z users. The pandemic exacerbated already declining sales in high street fashion retailers: analytical focus often centred around fallen giants such as Arcadia group, with Topshop and Topman reporting a £505m loss in mid-2019. This supersedes the exposure of high-street unethical practices with workers abroad; the increased demand for second-hand clothing, and a shift from in-person to online shopping habits.
What is evident is that Depop – as well as other digital platforms – is emblematic of a new type of work. It will require policy reforms to protect workers, as seen with JustEat deliverers now earning a fixed hourly wage after extensive employment protection campaigning. The platform offers young people the opportunity to foster employable skills, generate a substantial stream of income, as well as develop a generation of environmentally and ethically conscientious consumers and entrepreneurs. In what has been a bleak year for young people and employment, Depop provides a beacon of light, providing adolescents with an opportunity to flourish and begin their entrepreneurial pathways.
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