Second-place E-Commerce: The Rise of Teen Fashion Moguls and Entrepreneurs

Written by Emily Zou on Saturday, 09 September 2023. Posted in Business Analytics


Illustration by Clarice Frude for Girls For Business

I’ll let you in on a secret: one of my recent obsessions is Depop, the e-commerce platform selling anything from secondhand vintage denim vests to funky-patterned bomber jackets at affordable, every-day prices. After scrolling for hours, meticulously ‘liking’ and adding cute trendy pieces to my collections as if it were a Pinterest board, I have bought into the online shopping craze myself—a pair of gray parachute pants from Zara for $15.99, a mustard striped sweater from American Eagle for $19.39 and a green floral crop from Tilly’s for $5.50 (shipping included!). Picking up the mail has never been more of an exhilarating experience. 

The Second-hand Experience 

Secondhand e-commerce stores such as Depop, Poshmark, and Mercari are just beginning to define 2020s fashion. They’re fun, addictive, and easy to navigate. From the buyer’s perspective, there seems to exist an endless amount of niche, high-quality items just begging to be yours at unbeatable offers. I’ve seen fourteen-inch squishmallows, mint with the tags attached, that retail on Amazon for $39 sell for $10 on Depop. To depop is basically to thrift without sorting through the heaps of dusty sweaters and moldy t-shirts at the local Goodwill’s first. Just search a brand and the filtering algorithm does everything for you: find items in your size, price range, preferred color and so on. On the other hand, from the seller’s point-of-view, these stores serve as easily accessible platforms for earning a quick buck without having to negotiate prices at thrift stores or consignment stores. You set the price and you determine your shop’s policies. Plus, if you do a good job at selling, you’re rewarded with five-star reviews and a large following, promoting your shop to even more potential buyers.

The Teenage Dream

Perhaps not surprisingly then, Depop has attracted the eye of Gen Z and destigmatized the purchase of second-hand clothing to be a sustainable, trendy practice. According to Depop’s own website, as of 2021, Depop has approximately 30 million registered users, 90% of whom are under the age of 26 and 70% of whom are female, and 30 million items available for sale. In 2020 alone, during the midst of the pandemic, Depop witnessed a 300 percent year-over-year increase in items sold, likely due to buyers viewing the platform as a supplementary source of income. It’s not uncommon to come across shop descriptions that explicitly read “saving up for a concert” or “leaving for college soon and need help paying for books”. And the secondhand marketplace is only expected to appreciate in value to $96 billion by 2021 with nearly half of millennials and Generation Z expressing interest in shopping for secondhand items.

According to a 2022 survey conducted by Microsoft, 62% of Gen Zers reported that they have already started or intend to start their own business in the future, demonstrating that they are the most entrepreneurial generation yet. Many young people have turned to Depop, Vinted and ThredUp to get a taste of the entrepreneurial flare and some have made it big as ‘top sellers’, rewarded with hefty six-digit sales. To qualify as a top seller on Depop, you must achieve an average rating of 4.5, ship your items within three days on average and sell 50 items with an average of $20 per listing for at least four consecutive months. Sounds pretty hard. However, some top sellers have gone above and beyond these requirements, with the quasi-celebrity Bella McFadden, owner of the IGirl shop boasting 378,000 followers and 68,000 items sold, becoming the first seller on Depop to earn $1 million at age 24. Other top sellers have abandoned the platform completely, opting to start-up their own stores, sometimes physical ones as 27-year-old Emma Rouge has with her brick-and-mortar store, Rogue. Now, she sells 90s vintage jewelry, mini-skirts and baggy jeans in downtown New Jersey, though she used to clock in a lofty $7,000 per month on Depop. A more relatable success story comes from then-seventeen-year-old Chelsea Aves who pays for her classes and books at community college with the $500 to $1500 she brings home per week with the 1,600 items she sold. By selling on Depop, she has developed the skills of customer service, inventory management, marketing, networking, negotiation and even supply chain management by arranging international shipping.

To Depop or not to Depop?

At the same time, some consumers have questioned the ethics of making it big on second-place e-commerce platforms. Obviously, for the average person, selling an average of $2,600 per month isn’t feasible simply by decluttering their closet; according to a Closetmaid survey, the average woman owns 103 clothing items. Alternatively, top sellers have turned to thrift stores and charity organizations for stock, posting their exploits in ‘thrifting haul’ Tiktoks for all to gawk at. These bulk purchases are deemed problematic for several reasons. First, they prevent other thrifters from coming across such finds. Second, they raise the prices of thrifted items for low-income shoppers—if a $3 t-shirt at Goodwill is priced for $20 on Depop, then the former is discouraged to keep prices so low. However, top sellers argue that these exponential price inflations are justified due to the effort they put into sorting through dozens of bins, the cost of shipping, and the 10% fee that Depop charges per transaction. 

Nevertheless, most Depopers seem to agree that buying second-hand is at least sustainable, regardless of where or how it was sourced. It certainly beats buying into fast fashion corporations such as Shein or H&M, which have both outsourced child labor and boasted plenty of human rights violations. But does it really? By providing those who consume fast fashion with the option to sell cheaply-made pieces they don’t like, Depop actually encourages fast fashion (though not directly) through a process called greenwashing. Still, it is reassuring for many to know that their purchase prevented a piece of clothing in pristine condition from ending up in the landfills. Surely, second-place e-commerce is here to stay for the next few decades.

About the Author

Emily Zou

Emily Zou

Emily is a Business Analytics Writer at Girls For Business.

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