From Issue 49 of Ten Men: Desire, Demand, Depop
“Hello, Robbie speaking,” a confident, young voice comes through. On the other end of the phone, sitting in his parents’ spare room in Malvern, Worcestershire, is Robbie Gale, a 19-year-old entrepreneur whose virtual vintage clothing shop is flourishing. I’m calling to discover his secret.
Together with his business partner and old schoolmate Jonathan Amery, Gale is running a Depop account under the alias @RobsRack. At the time of writing, their profile has just over 43,000 followers who shop their carefully curated selection of streetwear staples and 1990s sporty hypebeast merch. Think Burberry miniskirts, a whole range of Versace Jeans logo-printed pieces, as well as masses of CP Company and the shop’s most popular brand, Stone Island.
In three years of running the e-shop, Gale went from a student with some extra pocket money to a full-time seller. “I just started by selling some of my clothes from younger years to afford some new, on-trend stuff,” he remembers. Soon after, he realised that Amery was doing the same thing, so they decided to merge. What about the parents? “They were a bit shocked at first to see how much some items were worth, but they think it’s great that we’re both doing well on our own.”
Meanwhile, 70 miles northeast, another young Depop-er is flipping and reversing it.“I’m currently getting things ready for my shop,” 16-year-old Gabriel Rylka tells me over the phone. From his mum’s old art studio in their home in Leicester, he runs @BreakVintage, through which he sells a combination of 1990s redux sportswear, with Tommy Hilger topping his brand list, as well as a whole range of luxury accessories, such as vintage Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags. All-over logo-printed, of course. His vintage-selling journey originally started during trips to flea markets with his mother, where he bought old trainers, cleaned them and made them look brand new, and then resold them.
“I was doing it from my dad’s eBay account and I still use his PayPal because I can’t have my own yet,” he says. But it wasn’t until 2017 that he saw more potential in Depop. After going to a kilo sale close to Leicester, Rylka bought a bagful of clothes worth £80. “I wanted to do a photoshoot for it, make it look more interesting,” he says. A day after posting, most of his listings were sold out. Now, with more than 19,000 followers, Rylka doesn’t stop, despite being in the midst of studying for his A levels. “Right now, it’s me coming home from school, packing, posting, packing, posting, putting more things up, packing and posting [laughs]. Yeah, it is taking up most of my life at the moment, but I really like it. I don’t find it daunting or boring at all.”
Both Gale and Rylka source most of their clothes online, which are then washed and stocked in bags in their respective spare rooms. “We use the space for the photographs we take of the stock. We also have photography lights with umbrellas, black and white sheets, a couple of racks,” reveals Gale. Rylka is a one-man band: “I take the photos, I have to wash it all, iron it. I used to model it but now, with the amount of stock I have, I can’t do it, it’s not practical. I do model my high-end things a lot of the time, but now it gets dark by the time I leave school, so I don’t have the chance to take any photos.”
In both cases, online isn’t the final destination. “We’d like to branch out into other, more high-end brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada, but also a permanent shop, somewhere like Bristol,” Gale says. Rylka sings the same song: “I’d like to open a shop in either Leeds or London, which I think could be possible if I work hard enough.” It’s interesting that the generation that was brought up online still carries the ambition of physical, real-life shopping. Just like with printed magazines and books, shops aren’t going anywhere. In fact, this online bargain hunt has triggered a whole new wave of collectable-like stores, pop-ups and even festivals inspired by the resell culture that’s celebrated online.
Rob’s Rack and Break Vintage are only two of 12m profiles on Depop, a social media-slash-shopping mobile app that enables the new generation of fashion-savvy entrepreneurs to start up their own businesses. Back in 2011, Depop was a startup in its own right. It was launched in Roncade, northern Italy, as part of H-Farm, an Italian technology incubator; the app’s founder, Italian editor Simon Beckerman, originally imagined it as a marketplace for the audience of his own publication, Pig magazine. The app quickly took a different trajectory. “Initially, the idea was to see Depop as a community of designers and stylists, vintage collectors and traders. And while that was happening, there was another segment that started to pick up, and they grew much faster. It was these very young boys and girls who were still going to school and saw Depop as a place where they could buy and sell, and also discover new things in a new way,” says Beckerman.
The name he originally chose for the platform was Garage (a reference to garage sales), but after issues with trademarking it, he chose Depop – a combination of depot and pop. And popular it is – the business opened a head office in London in 2012, and now has more than 120 employees worldwide (headed by Maria Raga as the company’s CEO), with in-app sales reaching well over $230m. Investors in the app include Renzo Rosso, the president of OTB group – the parent company of global fashion brands such as Maison Margiela, Marni and Diesel.
Platforms such as eBay and Etsy have been successfully heading the secondhand e-commerce industry for more than 23 years, but it’s the youthful nature of Depop that makes it stand out: 80% of its user group is aged between 14 and 24. The quick and easy sign-up process, Instagram-like interface (enabling a speedy shopping process) and youthful red, white and black graphics are all part of its appeal. The most-searched in-app brand in the last six months of 2018? With more than 2m hits, it’s (quite expectedly) Supreme, the logo of which perfectly fits into the Depop aesthetic.
Despite growing beyond a micro-community, Depop still carries that sense within its core. With the app being available worldwide, at the moment the company has offices in Italy, the UK and USA, with plans to expand in four more countries by the end of the year. “We would also like to expand more into the editorial sphere, because that’s my background, so we are experimenting now with an in-house radio station, which we might launch soon. This year, we are investing more in content, so the vision for Depop is to create a place where people discover the most inspiring creatives from all over the world,” says Beckerman.
The move to editorialising the platform doesn’t really come as a shock. Even a quick scroll down some of the most popular profiles (IDEA Books tops the UK list, with 2m followers, while the app’s founder is right up there with more than 1m) reveals that their popularity isn’t just a coincidence. It’s how the images sit in the grid, the editorial-like approach to capturing the product. When you have 12m other users as your competition, you have to find a way to stand out. “Presentation is probably half the sale on Depop, unlike on eBay,” says Gale. “Someone might have the exact same item as me but just put on their bed with a really small description. My photos are a lot better. I’d probably go for the larger seller, even if the item was £20 more.”
And there’s no denying there’s real money in this business, for all involved – “Depop takes 10% of the price and then the PayPal transaction fee is, like, 3.4%,” says Gale. The most expensive piece Rylka has sold was a Fendi coat he bought for only 40p in Poland, where his family is originally from: he resold it for £800. The biggest sell in Depop’s history, however, was a yellow gold Rolex Yacht-Master II wristwatch. Price? Undisclosed by the app, “but the buyer actually bought two from the seller on the same day”, the team reveals.
So, what do our Depop moguls spend their well-earned money on? “I normally buy used stuff, but I got a pair of Balenciaga Triple S recently,” Rylka reveals. Gale, on the other hand, is a bit more frugal – he’s currently saving to move out of his parents’ place. Regardless of whether you’re more of a Robbie or a Gabriel, it’s the ambition that separates the brand-obsessed from the brand-savvy. And with the knowledge and selling skills these two already have in their pocket, big-department-store buyers better beware. They’re coming for you. And your jobs, too.