Luella Roche is 16 years old. She lives in a small town in Ulster County, hangs out with her friends, and just got her learner’s permit. Luella doesn’t get an allowance. She doesn’t need one. She has Depop.
Depop is a sales platform for the secondhand, an impossibly enormous international flea market in app form. If eBay is a bazaar and Instagram is a beauty pageant, Depop is both. Just about anything you can shoot with your iPhone camera you can sell on Depop, so there’s Polaroid film and skateboards and a 1978 Garfield alarm clock and God knows what else, but mostly there are secondhand clothes and accessories, a digital thrift haul exploding out of its users’ literal closets.
Luella is blonde, bubbly, and savvy in the almond-milk-latte way of the new American teens. “Depop is very happening among young people,” she says. About six months ago, she downloaded the app and started browsing. Then she bought a few things — a couple pairs of mom jeans, some Air Force 1’s — and realized the things she was buying were not unlike the things she had sitting around unworn. She’d always thrifted, so she started offering up the castoffs from the back of her closet. Then she started buying specifically for the app, during her free time and on weekends and whenever she can get her mom, the fashion designer Ryan Roche, to give her a lift. She’ll select cute pieces in any and every size. In the past few weeks, she has posted a cutoff Disney World sweatshirt, a clear plastic Lady Gaga backpack, a Juicy Couture wallet. “This is the CUTEST most perfect pair of Levis vintage distressed high-waisted shorts,” she wrote recently of a $40 pair. “They are light wash and make your ass look fire.”
Suddenly, Luella was a mogul in training, sourcing her own merch, taking her own photos, updating the merchandise rack in her room, and writing her own ad copy. “I have two closets,” she says proudly. “One is my personal closet. And the second one is my Depop closet.”
Strangers shop from her. Friends shop from her (they get a discount). In six months of Depopping, she has made $1,500. A lot of people have very closed minds about thrift shopping, Luella thinks. It’s gross, it’s old, it’s used. But she sees every piece’s potential. Recently, she found a DKNY mini-backpack at Goodwill for $3 and sold it on Depop for $70. “It’s really easy,” she says. “Literally anybody can do this.”
Depop is a marketplace and a community, but it is also, in its way, a siren pitched at a frequency easiest for teens and the recently teenage to hear. According to the company, 90 percent of its over 15 million active users are under 26. The number of items sold in the U.S. doubled last year, and there are now 5 million U.S. users. In the U.K., where Depop is headquartered, it is estimated that one in three 15-to-24-year-olds is registered on the platform. On the Gen-Z seismograph, its tremors register like TikTok, Riverdale, and K-pop.
Outside, traditional retail is hurting: Mass-market and mid-tier chains are closing locations or shuttering altogether. Barneys has filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the resale market is expected to double in the next five years — which would make it bigger than fast fashion, according to some projections — as a new generation, one with sustainability and individuality on the brain, hunts out the perfect, must-have, no-one-else-has-got-it piece.
So Luella is professionalizing, and fast, investing in studio lighting and art-directing shoots with her friends as models. Out in the world, she’s her own advertisement. “People are always like, ‘Where did you get that?’ ” she says. “And I’m like, ‘It’s one of a kind, sorry!’ ”
Depop is far from alone in the “marketplace space.” There is eBay (the megalith of the field), sprawling Poshmark, craftier Etsy, the streetwear-heavy Grailed. But Depop feels like a secret just for Gen Z, and they love it for that. In a poll of more than 100 teens conducted this summer by New York’s The Strategist, Depop was the No. 1 favorite resale platform.
Luella has lots of friends who Depop. So does Lindsay Bernbach, a 13-year-old rising high-school freshman in New York City, who says that within her close-friend group of 15, all the girls use it (and even, she suspects, a few of the boys). She knows people “at least two grades above me” who do, she says. “Maybe even more.”
Like Instagram, Depop has lured celebrities and grown its own, but the democratic flatness of its landscape ensures that anyone can be an entrepreneur. Young, digitally savvy celebrities are on the platform (Maisie Williams, Brooke Candy); Instagram- and YouTube-famous influencers are too (Devon Lee Carlson, Emma Chamberlain, Madison Beer). But many, many more users are kids like Luella or Lindsay, so fluent in social media, so comfortable in self-starting that they’ve blossomed into independent businesses. This is high school now.
“When I’m selling clothes, I really like how I do my own thing,” says Lindsay. Then she pauses to reconsider. “I love it and I hate it, because it gives me a whole new responsibility. I’m 13, turning 14. I can’t get a job yet. It’s a lot to handle sometimes.”
But for those who succeed, or grow up to, the rewards can be significant. Luella’s heroes include the usual pop stars and YouTube demi-lebrities but also Bella McFadden, better known as Internet Girl, the reigning queen of the platform. A 24-year-old Canadian thrifter with a mild goth vibe and an audience of 571,000, Bella dropped out of college to move to L.A. and devote herself to being Internet Girl full time; she has since become Depop’s No. 1 seller in the U.S. The company wrote a letter that helped her secure an O-1 visa for individuals with extraordinary ability. How extraordinary? “My income is in the six figures,” she tells me.
Depop grew, unexpectedly, from an obscure Italian culture-and-design magazine of the early aughts called Pig. Pig’s co-founder, Simon Beckerman, had a vision that the community of readers and makers who connected in and over Pig might be interested in exchanging things as well as ideas, and in 2011 he launched Depop for them to do so. It hummed along for a few years until the arrival in 2014 of Maria Raga, a former Groupon executive. “The moment when he founded it up until 2014 is a completely different company,” says Raga, who credits Beckerman with the platform’s original vision. “He definitely had the idea to build a platform. What he probably didn’t anticipate was that so many young people would take it for their thing.” Raga began seeking investment more aggressively and in 2016 became CEO. Now the site has raised $105 million over several funding rounds; its latest round, a $62 million series C, secured this June, was led by General Atlantic, a private-equity firm that had previously fluffed Snapchat when it was the hoped-for conduit to the large consumer bases of the future.
Depop’s growth has almost nothing to do with advertising; it has gotten big mostly from user-to-user word of mouth. (Per the terms of service, Depoppers must be 13 or older to sign up, and all payments are transacted by PayPal, whose user agreement stipulates 18-plus, but parents seem willing to offer their own PayPal up for their child’s fun and profit.) It is in expansion mode, and the company is not yet profitable, says Raga. Only several months ago, its New York employees moved into their own floor of a co-working space in Little Italy.
Even so, its trajectory is startling. Now 140,000 items per day are listed on Depop, which takes a 10 percent commission from each sale. At $30, the average sale is arm’s-reach low, and most transactions are for a single item. Attainable prices make Depop especially appealing to younger crowds, though the costs are never so low that they’re beyond haggling. “Young kids that are spending their last pennies” is how Ebony Ugo, 37, a fashion stylist and single mom in New Jersey, describes many of her customers. Complaints percolate on forums like Reddit and Instagram, where an account featuring screen grabs of absurdities from Depop DMs has over 90,000 followers. “Hiya lovely! Love this skirt,” goes one. “Would you take 14p? X.” Fourteen pence, at the current rate of conversion, is 17 cents.
Seasoned sellers offer bundles, which can be several items packaged together for a slightly discounted rate or custom-made selections based on customer requests. Internet Girl’s bundles are some of Depop’s hottest commodities, part of her “international styling service.” She offers 20 per week, $150 each, every Sunday at 2 p.m.; by 2:10, they are gone. Users supply a theme, which might be “Y2K skater girl” or “industrial rave princess.” “Some people totally contradict themselves,” she says. “But I still manage to pull it together.” Internet Girl, like several top Depop merchants, has been so successful selling vintage that she has branched off into creating a jewelry line of her own, items from which frequently appear in her bundles. Like her idol, Luella too sells jewelry pieces of her own design, though hers are handmade necklaces with beads from Michaels.
Depop’s innovation is to understand the alchemy of the “peer” in peer-to-peer transactions, relieving 30- and 40-year-old fashion directors and the graying CEOs of publicly traded multinational apparel companies of their duty to preach cool-for-a-price to young customers. The youth can minister to themselves.
The usual adolescent school dramas apply. “A lot of my friends will look through older kids’ reviews or likes,” explains Julia, 14, who says most of her friends at her New York City school use Depop. Instead of buying what the popular girl wears to school, now you can literally shop her closet — or undercut her before she even has a chance to wear it herself. “I’ve seen people wear the stuff that I’ve liked before on random accounts. Like, oh, wow.” Julia’s friend Lindsay knew of at least one serious spat that had begun as a result of Depop snakiness.
Julia now sells on Depop and buys on Depop, and the money she makes on Depop often goes back into Depop, with the platform making a commission on each sale. Small price to pay for an app that, she says, completely changed her style. “If you look at pictures a year ago and now,” Julia says, “I used to be a little basic and dress like other people. Now I only ever wear thrifted clothes.”
Noah Carlos is, in their own estimation, “kind of an OG.” (Noah identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.) Noah, who lives in Orange County, joined Depop a few years ago around the age of 15. “When I started, there weren’t too many sellers,” they say. “Compared to now, when it seems like everybody and their mother’s on the app.”
Noah runs Loser Thrift, a Depop page of thrift finds: secondhand Hanna Andersson baby-doll dresses, floral stretch tops from the ’90s, an old Delia*s T-shirt. “My buyers are young, impressionable teenagers that want to dress different,” they say, with the wisdom that comes from being almost 19. The look that Noah finds performs best at the moment is the one Depop is synonymous with: ’90s and early-aughts vintage that’s searchable and taggable throughout the platform as “Y2K.” “Right now, it’s the 2000s,” Noah says. “Everybody’s living for a Bratz moment.” (The Bratz dolls arrived in 2001 as the fashion-obsessed, bad-attitude antidote to Barbie’s ageless primness.) For $45, Noah can offer you an extra-large children’s jacket printed with foil butterflies. “Early 2000s Old Navy is everything,” their description reads. “super lizzie mcguire 💋💄.” In the year 2000, Noah was in utero.
Gazing out from their Depop grid, Noah is lanky and sloe-eyed, with the kind of unattainable dreamy vagueness that is a model’s stock-in-trade. They have recently found extra-app celebrity as a runway and print model, appearing in ads for Helmut Lang, couture for Schiaparelli, and editorials in Interview and Italian Vogue.
Traveling as a model has taken a bite out of Noah’s free time to Depop, but lately, they say, they’ve spent at least three hours every day organizing, shooting, and describing. Their look is varied and indefinable in the usual Depop way: a mix of eras, styles, labels, and fits, some of which bedevil all but the fashionable 18-year-old imagination. (“Y2K does ’70s is still a thing,” they say authoritatively.) “A lot of designers get inspiration from what I wear,” says Noah, who has also modeled for Marni, Missoni, and Margiela. “Low-key, I don’t want to see it on the runway, because I want to be the only one with this kind of dress on.”
“Literally, ugly is cool on Depop,” Luella says. “Grandpa, big, Nike. Literally old people’s shoes are cool on Depop. I mean, they’re cool now not only on Depop. Depop is making these things cool.”
“If you would’ve told me when I started Depop it would have turned into what it is now, I would not have believed you,” says Jlynn Norvell, who lives on what can only be called a Depop commune.
Once, they were two accounts: Masha and Jlynn. Now they are Masha & Jlynn (@Masha_Jlynn), a Depop supergroup. Masha was growing fed up with the back-end business of selling on Depop, fielding endless negotiations from buyers trying to drive down prices. “She was ready to give up,” Jlynn (pronounced “Jay-Lynn”) says, “and we ended up talking about merging. She was going to move to another state. I was like, ‘Just move here.’ ”
And so, Masha Roush ended up moving from California to Slidell, Louisiana, earlier this year to join the new business partner she hadn’t been looking for. (They were introduced by a mutual friend and seller on the app.) They are a little older — Jlynn is 28, Masha is 23 — so the pair have made Depop into a career, though it is starting to resemble more of a lifestyle. “It’s both of our household incomes,” Jlynn says. “Our husbands homeschool our kids. We bought land, and we’re about to start a farm situation.”
Their shop has the quasi-professional gleam that comes with full-time focus. Jlynn, a former model, and Masha pose for most of their images, many photographed on a picturesque tree-lined road by their homes: Eden with high-waisted Guess jeans. People message often asking for advice. “I always tell them, ‘Just take nice pictures and sell what you like,’ ” Jlynn says. “A lot of people don’t realize how much of a job it is to keep a shop going like this. It’s full time. Beyond full time.”
Anna Crysell, 26, and Kristina Karner, 32, started a Depop together to pay for a vacation a year ago. Instead, says Kristina, “We moved in together to streamline our shipping process.” They source five days a week to keep up stock. L.A. is vintage paradise, glutted with the overflow of Hollywood studios and costume shops, but even there, the bounty is not infinite. “There’s a slight competition at the sourcing spots,” Kristina says diplomatically.
Their Depop shop, Singulier, is unusually atmospheric: blue-sky vistas, sea, sand and gravel, rock formations, and rolling roadways. Both have experience in the fashion industry (Anna is a former model, Kristina a designer), and they realized that the better their items looked, the more they’d sell. So they insist on shooting on location, packing up 100 or more items and camping out overnight in the desert a drive away from their L.A. home to stage daylong fashion shoots. “That’s why, when sometimes kids are like, ‘Can you hook me up on the price?’ I’m like, you lug this leather jacket through the Mojave,” Kristina says. “We’re doing makeup in the car-side mirror with 40-mph wind and sand. But we get the shot.” (@Singulier’s prices tend to be a bit higher than the platform’s average; they estimate $40 per item and sell on average 300 pieces a month. They prefer not to reveal their income, but scratch-pad math suggests this volume would net them an annual $144,000 gross.)
Anna and Kristina’s special focus is sustainability, which comes up often in Depop discussions, as well as those about the pet passions of Gen Z. The styles they sell range widely by design, all the better to cater to customers across the board. That could mean a spangled, see-through crop top (perfect, per its hashtags, for #burningman #coachella) on the one hand or men’s Dickies work pants on the other. Personal taste plays into it, but only so much. “Definitely, sometimes we’re thrifting and we’re like, ‘This is so Depop,’ ” Kristina says. “We both hate it, but we’ve got to buy it.”
On Mott Street toward the eastern fringe of Soho, a large red awning announces Depop to the neighborhood. Cha Cha Matcha, the millennial-pink green-tea chain, is just around the corner. “The overflow from there is great,” says the 23-year-old minding the shop, known on Depop as Emma Rogue. (The Emma Rogue account features a juicy background of neon orange or yellow, with a parade of the ’90s and the aughts: Tommy Hilfiger, Rocawear, Lisa Frank, Paul Frank.)
The store — in Depop parlance, the “space,” with a counterpart in L.A. — is one of the ways the company’s online world is making inroads into the physical one. And other portals into Depopism are in the offing: a just-opened pop-up space in Selfridges, the London department store, as well as an upcoming partnership with the downtown fashion incubator VFiles on its sourced-from-the-internet designer runway show.
The New York Depop is not a store in the traditional sense, though there are things for sale, like a $100 Korn T-shirt, from a rotating group of Depop sellers whom the company invites to send their best on consignment. There is also a library, with books on fashion and photography, and benches for sitting and people watching. But at least half the store’s space is given over to large, seamless, professional-quality lights, tripods, and photo equipment. For two-hour blocks three days a week, any Depop user can book a free session at the in-store studio to improve their photos and, hopefully, their sales.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Matt Stockert, a 24-year-old from Sayville, Long Island, was in the back of the shop, posing before his iPhone against a vivid-yellow paper backdrop. Matt runs @Hipsterhut, where he sells the thrifted pieces he finds with a strong bent for nostalgic cartoon-laden bits from the ’90s and early aughts. (His secret: church thrift stores.) Nostalgia is good business. “When you get somebody in their feels, something that brings them back,” he says. He gestures down at his T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the ’90s video game Crash Bandicoot, a Depop find. “This is a game I used to play all the time with my dad.”
Matt doesn’t actually need Depop’s studio. His father is the super of the apartment complex where the family lives, so he has been able to create his own studio in a storage room with sections themed by decade and props and sets specific to each one (for the ’70s, an orange couch and patterned wallpaper; for the ’90s, a graffiti wall). Production values, he says, get your photo noticed; putting your face into it — he has a number of boy-band poses — might help you become a Depop celebrity.
So might regular visits to the Depop shop, where he chats up the staff. The promise of the “Explore” page, which Depop staffers curate from users’ feeds and display to anyone browsing, might bring hundreds more views, likes, and follows to his account.
Matt is not a full-time Depopper. He has a job at Starbucks. But even with that, he goes thrifting three or four times a week, and on Depop he makes around $3,000 a month. By the platform’s standards, this makes him a start-up, although thanks to his enthusiasm, the company has made him a student ambassador. He has without question been an evangelist: His mother now has a platform, where she sells her own vintage finds; his girlfriend too, though she mostly shops. Matt is currently finishing a marketing degree at Arizona State University online. And then?
“I want to work at Depop,” he says. “I want to take any opportunity I can to come in and just meet them, talk to them, show them that I’m passionate about them. That is my goal: to eventually work at Depop. Whatever they need.”
*This article appears in the August 19, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
More From the fall 2019 fashion issue
- Fall’s Fine Jewelry, Cast in a Romantic Light
- A Breath of Fresh Air
- The Next Generation Comes to New York to See (and Dress) Itself