Let’s talk about…Sustainable fashion

Depop gentrification and how overconsumption continues to undermine sustainable fashion

In the past couple of years, as people become more conscious of good environmental practices, how we consume fashion has become a more pressing issue.

  Fast fashion and the mass production of cheap clothes does a huge amount of environmental damage, leading to tonnes of clothing waste as well as contributing to microplastic pollution and global warming during the production process. In spite of this, fast fashion comfortably remains a booming industry due to just how cheap the items are.

  However, as we become more cognisant of the environment, and in the complete absence of popular retailers adopting better practices, the tide is beginning to turn, with people beginning to opt for more sustainable fashion.

  Buying second-hand clothes, renting items, upcycling, and buying from ethical clothing brands are all examples of how people can be more sustainable with their fashion choices, and despite the conveniences that come along with fast fashion, these more sustainable options are growing in popularity. In particular, the practice of charity shopping has been championed as one of the most practical ways to consume fashion more ethically, as it is relatively accessible and affordable – plus, the money is going somewhere good, so that adds to the incentive.

  The boost in thrifting’s popularity came about in some part due to online influence. In the same way that fast fashion hauls garner lots of views and prompt others to shop fast fashion, thrifting videos did the same. Thrifting became cool, and the stigma associated with wearing second-hand clothing went away. Additionally, there was the possibility of lucking out and finding expensive or designer items for sale at cheap prices.

  All in all, the past couple of years has seen a significant amount of people migrating from shopping conventional retail to hitting up the charity shops. However, while it would be natural to expect this change to be a wholly positive one, already some holes are forming in how the consumption of second-hand fashion is playing out.

  It would be bad practice to talk about modern thrifting without mentioning apps like Depop, which function as a platform for people to buy and sell items, particularly second-hand clothing. These platforms act as a sort of online charity shop, opening up the world of thrifting and making it even more accessible. And originally, Depop did indeed function as an online thrift store, allowing people to pass on their clothes instead of dumping them, as well as providing people with a wider range of second-hand clothing that was able to include more styles and sizes than a local store might – and largely, for cheap prices.

  Now however, the Depop scene is a little different. Prices average a lot higher than they did a couple of years ago, and as a consequence, the platform has lost a lot of its accessibility, which was one of its major draws in the first place. And when you do manage to find something nice for cheap on Depop anymore, chances are you’ve come across one of the platform’s many drop-shipping accounts.

  Drop-shipping on Depop refers to when people find very cheap items on sites like Wish or AliExpress (which are known for selling poor quality items for extremely low prices), and list them on their own Depop store. Depop drop-shippers essentially act as a middle man between these sites and the buyer, never actually interacting with the products they’re selling but ordering them off the sites to the buyer and making a steep profit doing so. In these instances, not only is the buyer getting mugged off, but it also contributes once again to the problem of fast fashion.

  Another issue that’s crept up in recent years is people going into charity shops and bulk buying all the quality clothes in order to mark up the price and resell them. While similar to drop-shipping and less harmful in that it doesn’t support fast fashion, this practice actively strips local charity shops of their quality items, disadvantaging people who may genuinely need them. This overconsumption of second-hand clothing on these resellers’ parts, for the express purpose of making a profit, is a harmful practice, and negates the entire point of thrifting in the first place.

  Sites like Depop, which presented an opportunity to platform wider scale thrifting, have ended up being gentrified by those looking to capitalise on the popularity of thrifting. The tendency towards overconsumption and profit has followed along with the move from fast fashion to sustainability, and any environmental impact modern thrifting does will only be undermined if such problems continue.

  Promise still remains in the fact that more people advocate for environmentally friendly fashion now, but there is still a long way to go. Practices such as (genuine) thrifting, upcycling, and choosing ethical fashion brands will certainly have a positive knock-on effect, but the problem cannot be completely solved while issues such as overconsumption and unnecessary capitalisation persist.