How Consumer Youth are Changing the Apparel Industry.

By Mary Stringham.

In past years the apparel industry has come under scrutiny as a major contributor to climate change. Fashion as a whole is responsible for a whopping 10% of global carbon emissions, about 7% more than the often vilified airline industry. So what does this mean for today’s avid shopper? For teens and teens adjacent the answer to the problem is Depop.

The Gen Z friendly app is a consumer-to-consumer resale platform that launched in 2011 alongside similar online resources like The RealReal and Poshmark. With over fifteen-million active users in more than 140 countries it’s no surprise the resale market is expected to double within the next few years. ThredUp’s 2019 Sales Report even estimates that by 2023 the industry will be worth 51 billion dollars. According to Depop about 90% of its users are under the age of 26, confirming apps like this are shifting how young people like to shop. Everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels to ET Collectibles can be found on Depop, but the Instagram-esque feeds are typically filled with a never ending parade of vintage and gently used clothing to purchase. Preloved fashion is often better for the environment because instead of continuing the cycle of throwing away and buying new clothes users recycle what they’re tired of by passing it on to the next wearer. This extends a garment’s life rather than prematurely ending it by tossing it in the trash and sending it off to landfill.

Selling used items online is nothing new and has even been around since the dawn of the internet. In the 1990s OG websites like eBay offered ways for the average person to sell unwanted items to someone across the country, or even across the globe. Think of it like the quintessential American garage sale, just now online. Depop has taken this a step further through its platform which resembles the popular social media app Instagram. By transforming consumer-to-consumer resale into a social media friendly app, it makes shopping that much more fun and accessible to a younger generation. Purchasers can scroll through a visually pleasing feed filled with one of a kind second-hand pieces donned by the coolest of models. The backdrops range from bright and eye catching to subdued and chic inviting the viewer to buy whatever is on their phone screen.

Hannah Shelton in one of her thrifted outfits.

With the recent bankruptcy of mega fast fashion retailer Forever 21 and rise in youth climate activism it’s apparent that young people are starting to take note of their shopping habit’s effect on the planet. That $6 shirt from H&M may seem like a steal now but the growing moral and environmental cost of fast fashion makes the purchase seem less appealing to Gen Z and Millennial shoppers. Though price is what can make fast fashion so tempting, Depop offers a competitive rate with their average item marked at just $30, doable for many a shopper.

Salt Lake City based Depop seller, freelance stylist and burgeoning Instagram influencer Hannah Shelton (19) started her own account on the app back in 2016 as a sophomore in high school. When asked why she was drawn to Depop she recounted a moment back in her home state of Arizona, “I complimented my friends dress and she told me that she swapped it with someone on a clothing app. So it was like sharing clothes with your friends except it’s internet friends. Obviously that sounded like a dream.” Depop’s platform allows users to like and comment on pieces for sale and are also encouraged to follow one another, similar to other social media apps. Shelton herself enjoys the online community that Depop encourages and according to her, “Not only is it a way to resell and share but it’s a way to connect with others who might have the same views as you do about shopping sustainable and working towards a life with zero fast fashion. Those are definitely the type of people I want to connect with!” Shelton says she often keeps the environment in mind when she shops and can feel embarrassed even looking at clothes offered by fast fashion mega retailers Zara or H&M due to their environmentally harmful nature, which she sees posts about constantly on her social media feeds. “10 points for social media,” she said, “It’s keeping us in check.”

When asked why she is drawn to vintage or gently used clothes Shelton stated, “I love the fact that no one else will have what I’m wearing. It’s unique and it’s special. Especially because it’s more of a hunt to find it, if it’s in your size then it’s meant to be!” One of a kind items fill Depop feeds and much like Shelton, other Gen Z shoppers want one-off pieces to create special outfits individual to them rather than risking having the same Forever 21 top as another girl in their Psych 101 class. When asked if she thinks Depop can save the planet Shelton replied, “I definitely think it’s a step towards it. It makes people’s old clothes worthwhile rather than throwing them away and contributing to waste. It promotes sustainability and positivity, which we always need more of in this world!”

Though Depop may not be the savior to the climate crisis, one can see that it’s helping shift Gen Z shopping culture as they hunt for pieces unique to them and are more sustainable by nature. If we must shop, then why not shop secondhand?

Thrifting as a pass-time. Hannah styles her friend with second-hand finds.

Photo credits: Hannah Shelton & Devin Zander