Why Teens Are Selling Clothes Out of Their Closets

On Depop, thrifted outfits and original fashion are the gateway to influencer status.

A messy closet
Alon Brik / Shutterstock

A crowd of teenagers waited in the sticky summer heat outside a storefront in New York’s SoHo neighborhood last Friday night. They weren’t in line to meet their favorite YouTube stars, or even beloved Instagrammers. They were there to see influencers who run their own stores on an app called Depop.

Depop is a social shopping platform that’s a little bit eBay and a little bit Instagram. In fact, the app is designed to closely mimic the latter. Users have profile pages that function as mini digital storefronts, where they post pictures and descriptions of what they’re selling, along with a price. You can follow your favorite sellers and view their wares in a feed. There’s also an “Explore” page featuring curated picks and trending items in different categories, such as men’s T-shirts or women’s skirts. Posts contain hashtags, just like on Instagram, to make searching for items easier.

The platform was founded in Milan back in 2011 and is now based in London, but over the past year it has become a force in American teen culture. Top YouTubers such as Emma Chamberlain and Marzia Bisognin sell clothing on Depop, and a slew of Instagram staples, such as Lottie Moss and Chiara Ferragni, also have shops. Last week, the company announced it had raised $62 million to fund its expansion.

Most Depop users sell old clothes and vintage garments. If sellers are successful enough, sometimes they’ll start their own brand and distribute it exclusively through Depop. The app is similar to other social resale apps such as Poshmark and Thredup, but Depop has distinguished itself by courting young users.

Maria Raga, the CEO of Depop, told me that she envisions the platform creating a new generation of teen entrepreneurs, and the company works hard to highlight them. Young creators are regularly selected for the “featured” page, which pulls from top sellers on the app. When the platform invited 50 of its favorite sellers to set up shop at Depop LIVE over the weekend, nearly all were members of Gen Z.

One of the things that make Depop so popular is its low barrier to entry. It’s as easy as setting up a profile, snapping a picture of the item you want to sell, and uploading. The prices are also remarkably affordable: You can buy a black Express tube top from 2009 for $2, or a pair of jeans for $7. Payments can be processed through PayPal, which many teens use as their primary “bank account. Depop also squares well with many young people’s more fluid view of ownership. You can buy a top and wear it for a season (or just for an Instagram post), then turn around and sell it to someone else.

But the real secret to Depop’s success is that it allows users to amass two of the most valuable modern currencies: money and clout. Becoming a top seller on Depop is a springboard to fame on YouTube or Instagram. It also provides built-in monetization for a future career as an influencer. In the scramble to secure brand deals and launch merch lines, having a successful Depop store can be a lifeline. Plus, you can’t be called a sellout when you made a name for yourself as a seller.

Bella McFadden, a 23-year-old in Los Angeles who goes by the online moniker Internet Girl, has been on Depop for three years. After initially downloading the app to sell a few things from her closet that she wasn’t wearing anymore, she soon began finding items her audience would like at thrift shops and selling those too. Her store on Depop now has half a million followers, and she has started selling her own designs and runs a styling business.

Cultivating a fan base on Depop soon turned McFadden into a multi-platform influencer. She has almost 300,000 followers on Instagram, and her YouTube channel has 85,000 subscribers. On Instagram, she posts style inspiration and behind-the-scenes looks at what she does all day. On YouTube, she promotes her clothing line, offers advice on becoming an entrepreneur, and vlogs about thrifting. “I think being on more platforms [is] better. It helps the growth of your brand,” McFadden told me. She thinks the combination of online store and social network that Depop has pulled off is “important, because it helps people know your personality and want to follow you as an influencer and a brand.”

For influencers who want to keep their clout, staying on top of the latest trends is critical. Many teens and influencers say they turn to Depop to see what’s bubbling up in fashion. New styles sometimes appear on the app months before they go viral on Instagram. Attendees at Depop LIVE said they spotted looks such as monochromatic outfits and stacks of barrettes on Depop way before they ever saw them on the streets or on Instagram. Khalid Mahmood Jr., a 19-year-old influencer who runs his own Depop store, said that the app is where many people in his network go to find one-of-a-kind merchandise. “As a 19-year-old, everybody knows about Depop,” he said. “It’s where everybody is selling and buying. You’ve got the high-end fashion. You’ve got the thrifted clothes.” “It’s like a personal catalog,” added his friend Liv Bonaparte, a 20-year-old from Atlanta.

Buying and selling clothes on Depop also helps influencers keep their feeds looking new. “We’re trying to look cool and fashionable and fresh all the time,” said Harry Hill, a social-media influencer in Brooklyn who attended Depop LIVE. “So if we can take a pic in a shirt one day and sell it the next, that move just ups your game on both platforms.”

According to a 2015 study by Ernst & Young, Gen Z is more cost-conscious and more entrepreneurial than previous generations. That positions a resale app like Depop well in the youth market. Lily, a 12-year-old outside Depop LIVE who, like everyone else under the age of 18 in this story, is referred to by a pseudonym, said that she and her friends all buy clothes on Depop because it’s cheaper than shopping retail. Plus, they know they can resell their purchases on the app when they’re done. “My friends all sell and buy things on there,” added Allison, also 12 years old. “I bought custom Air Force 1s, a bunch of clothes, shirts and stuff … My friend is 13—she sells off all her old clothes so she can buy new clothes on there.”

As Depop gains a foothold, big social platforms are working harder to integrate shopping into their own products. Instagram recently launched a Checkout feature that allows users to shop the items featured in influencers’ posts directly within the app. Last fall, Pinterest also added new shopping options. Facebook introduced Marketplace, a Craigslist competitor, years ago, and Mark Zuckerberg said in May that the company plans to make it “as easy to send money to someone as it is to send a photo.”

But many of the big platforms’ shopping features are still in their infancy. Instagram Checkout, for example, is available only to a very small portion of brands and influencers, and it’s focused on sales of new, not used, clothing. That leaves Depop with a claim to a valuable corner of the influencer economy. “Instagram allows you to be your own billboard,” Hill said, “and Depop allows you to sell what you’re advertising.”

This post previously referred to Maria Raga as the founder of Depop. She is the CEO. We regret the error.