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How fashion resale site Depop tapped into the minds of Gen Z

Fresh off Depop’s $1.6 billion acquisition by Etsy, CEO Maria Raga explains why her social commerce platform resonates with younger shoppers.

How fashion resale site Depop tapped into the minds of Gen Z
Maria Raga [Photo: courtesy Depop]

Just about every company and brand wants to understand how Gen Z operates. But few are as tapped into this generation as Depop, the social shopping app that launched in 2011 and has since grown to 30 million users, 90% of whom are under the age of 26. 

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They use Depop, which Fast Company recognized as one of this year’s Most Innovative Companies in Retail, to buy and sell vintage fashion, second-hand streetwear, and one-of-a-kind items; to connect with one another; and to spot and participate in emerging fashion trends. Depop’s robust community caught the attention of e-commerce giant Etsy, which acquired Depop over the summer for $1.6 billion. 

On this week’s Most Innovative Companies podcast, Depop CEO Maria Raga, who joined the company in 2014, talks about how to build a social commerce community that captures the hearts and minds of younger users. 

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It starts with having a strong sense of purpose. “We didn’t build this platform necessarily for Gen Z,” Raga says. “We basically have a set of values that happen to resonate quite well with Gen Z.” For Depop, that means a platform that champions self-expression through fashion, enables entrepreneurship, and promotes sustainability through resale and circular fashion. 

Earlier this year, Depop partnered with Bain & Company on a report about the Gen Z mindset. Among the findings, says Raga, is that “Gen Z is extremely fluid. [For them] it’s not this or that; it’s this and that.” This translates into how they approach fashion on Depop, which allows users to embrace experimental looks and switch up their aesthetic from day-to-day, whether they’re going for a tweedy “dark academia” look, the vintage wool sweaters of the “cabincore” trend, or the Britney-esque fashions of Y2k. Since Depop gives users multiple ways to connect and communicate with one another, the platform is now filled with micro-communities that amass around different aesthetics and styles. 

This sense of fluidity also informs how members of Gen Z approach life: with an entrepreneurial mindset. “They are basically defining new paths to become successful,” Raga explains. “They don’t think about necessarily going to university. They think, ‘what are the things that I want to do or that make me feel passionate?’ That [often] means having multiple jobs.” One of them could be a Depop shop, which can serve as either a side hustle or a full-on creative business endeavor. 

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As Depop’s profile has grown, an increasing number of fashion labels are turning to the platform as a way to either introduce themselves to a new generation or burnish their street credibility. According to Raga, these collaborations work when they’re organic and authentic, and Depop approaches them carefully. The platform worked with Ralph Lauren a few years ago to showcase the brand’s classic looks in one of Depop’s signature brick-and-mortar stores, on London’s Bond Street. For a Benetton partnership this past May, Depop curated a collection of vintage items from across the platform’s sellers. A Vans collaboration in 2020 had the shoemaker partner with some of Depop’s leading sellers, who each designed a pair of sneakers that were produced and sold on the site. “It’s all about showcasing creativity or bringing heritage brands back,” says Raga. 

In the meantime, Raga is looking to new parent company Etsy for support in scaling Depop to meet the growing demand for it. That means getting help tackling everything from payments and shipping mechanisms to the inevitable trust and safety issues that will arise as the platform expands. “Etsy went through similar challenges that we are going through right now,” Raga says. “We thought that [the acquisition] could be a good way for us to deliver our mission and support our users in a faster and better way.”

One thing is certain: Raga intends to keep cultivating Depop’s vibrancy and distinct identity under Etsy. “We want to build the most progressive and diverse home of fashion,” she says. 

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You can listen and subscribe to Most Innovative Companies on Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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