Seventeen-year-old Chelsea Aves of Fremont, California, has had a Depop account since her sophomore year of high school. But when COVID shut the world down, she started selling in earnest.
“We were all in quarantine and I had nothing to do, so I was on my Marie Kondo cleanup,” Aves says. “My whole closet had to go. And that’s where I first started collecting my inventory.”
Once she’d gone through her own unwanted clothes, snapped photos, and uploaded the good stuff to the used/vintage e-commerce app, she set her sights on other full closets in the house.
“I started ‘cleaning out’ my parents’ closet,” she says. “I was like, ‘Who, these are good!’ They had like a lot of brands from the 90’s like Ed Hardy – a lot of things going back in style. They weren’t too happy when they found out.”
With her parents’ eventual forgiveness, Aves stepped up to the task and searched for finds at flea markets and garage sales. About a year and a half after her Depop experiment, she has more than 850 items listed, and she has sold more than double that. By her estimate, she brings in between $500 and $1,500 a week — enough to pay for her classes and books at the community college where she studies nursing.
The money is great, but she says it’s the freedom she finds so appealing. “I remember going to make my first big purchase without [my parents] know. They said, ‘Where did you get this iPad? From your clothes?’” she says. “Any kind of independence you have from your parents is everything.” Along the way, Aves has developed a new arsenal of professional skills: inventory management, customer relations and international shipping performance, to name a few.
Mary Findley, senior community development manager at Depop, says Aves’ story is becoming more common: Four years of press around young salespeople pay their tuition fees with Depop revenue, but 2020 marked the beginning of a new era for the ecommerce-meets-social app: millionaire seller success stories, revenue increases and last month a $1.6 billion acquisition by Etsy.
As of spring 2020, Findley says, these upward trends are in overdrive. At the start of the lockdowns, the team at Depop – founded in Italy in 2011, now headquartered in London – began to see activity spikes among its 26 million buyers and sellers, 90 percent of which 25 years or younger, according to company records. “Many of our highest-earning salespeople started their stores during the pandemic,” Findley says, “and they’ve built successful businesses.”
Rio Andras Ramirez, a 24-year-old artist in Janesville, Wisconsin, is not yet a high earner, but they are making strides. Ramirez also started selling in the midst of COVID, and this spring they left their jobs as an Amazon warehouse worker and joined a much more flexible arrangement with Instacart, to make more room for Depop.
Now Ramirez spends more than 20 hours a week buying size and gender inclusive goods from their own wardrobe and from their grandmother Rosa (e.g. vintage Betty Boop clothes), presenting their offers in a dreamy color spectrum. Ramirez’s goal is to get to a point where Depop can support them full time and also be a venue to sell their own designs.
Jordan Cox, 22, balances her burgeoning Depop store with lab work as an inorganic chemistry graduate student at Columbia. She’s curating a collection that taps into Gen Z microtrends, such as big, boxy “grandpa sweaters,” “dark academia,” and, in general, “Cool girl” Pinterest vibes,” which she’s selling at a rate of about 40 items per month. Her profits of $200 to $400 a month aren’t life-changing, she says, and the offer section is “little annoying,” but she’s not going to be folding the store anytime soon.
“I do like that it’s a very ‘social media’ feel,” she says. “I get notifications on my phone, and there’s definitely an amount of adrenaline or dopamine or whatever when you get a sale versus someone liking your posts on Instagram, so I think that’s keeping me hooked too.”
But since joining in May 2020, she has had to overcome Depop’s physical and logistical challenges, which can be especially challenging for young people in small living spaces who are often on the go. For starters, there’s the storage dilemma: “How do you become a serious Depop salesman while going to college and living in a dorm?” a salesperson Posted to /r/Depop. “Right now my university is closed due to COVID, so I’m doing this from home… Are there people doing this from their dorm? Is it possible at all?” Commentators weighed in: “Live off-campus.”
Then there’s managing fulfillment as a one-person show. During Black Friday, Cox made something like $1,000 in sales — but the annual Depop frenzy also coincides with Thanksgiving, when she was out of town for a week and a half. To avoid delayed shipping, she towed dozens of bins containing hundreds of items in her car for the duration of her break.
Cody Williams, 25, of Phoenix, Arizona, said he and his fiancée, Kylee, were “looking for ways to earn extra passive income this year,” and Depop seemed like the ticket. In the past month they have launched “are and herschannels, with inventory mostly coming from their own closets. Williams’ photos often show him cropped at the waist, looking at the garment he’s wearing in casual admiration. By early July, the pair had sold 39 items for about $500.
Based on the numbers (as tracked and analyzed in the app’s dashboard), earning five or six grand at the end of the year seems “super realistic and to some degree low,” Williams says, so he has a feeling that they are on the right track. There is only one problem: “Right now the big shortfall is: how can we find ways to market our products without being stuck on the phone all day? [Depop is like] we’re going to give you some kind of incentive, like you can get money with this – but you have to stare at your phone eight hours a day.’
The pandemic has not been a windfall for everyone on the platform. About three years ago, 23-year-old photographer Malena Lloyd moved from Cleveland to Norwalk, Ohio, where a dead-end job search led her to become her own boss on Depop. She trades in used and vintage and says she earns more than she would as a barista or store clerk, all the while feeling creatively fulfilled, enlisting friends to model her items and developing a striking aesthetic for her brand, with colorful backgrounds of magenta, mandarin and retro crochet rainbow.
But when the pandemic hit, Lloyd’s sales plummeted and haven’t fully recovered. Lloyd says other sellers have noticed as well. “It’s been pretty slow. Like, in all my years of selling, last year and even a little bit this year, it’s been bad,” she says. weeks and then you get a salary. A few years ago it was so much better – then it was great for me.”
Lloyd has begun to put her eggs in other baskets: a gig at a thrift store she ended up in for her Depop work, seamstress and design work she’s just started, and prepares for an upcoming move to NYC to pursue fashion .
Whether she was against algorithm changes, or a more human factor, she’s learning one of the platform’s toughest lessons: success on Depop can be fickle. The most successful salespeople are those with the power to take their audiences with them, often building an audience before leaving for leaving their own online stores.
But if the churn hurts Depop, it’s hard to see it in the numbers. The company saw a 30 percent increase in items sold early last year, eventually doubling revenue (mostly from sales commissions) to $70 million in 2020. It also appears to have gained millions of users, with about 5 million more than in June 2020. When buyers have more options, e.g. new stock, such as the freshly liquidated wardrobe of Aves’ parents Y2K fashion – Lloyd and other experienced salespeople just have to work a lot harder to keep their heads above water.
Lloyd, for her part, plans to go through with it, repeating a classic freelancer’s mantra: “Just keep doing it, keep advertising, keep selling, do your best, and hopefully it shakes out.”