• Matthew Murphy

Depop: a sustainable alternative to fast fashion?

As shoppers move away from fast fashion outlets to seek sustainable alternatives, can Depop provide a way to bring a new lease of life to old clothes?

Sally Kirby, owner of Free Spirit Vintage. Photograph: Sally Kirby

In Ireland, Penneys is much more than just a shop — it’s a cultural institution, and as many Irish shoppers around the country waited with bated breath for its grand reopening, some held back — in dread — for the chaos that awaited as those shop doors finally crept open.

“Sell! Sell! Sell!” is the spirit of Penneys, says Sally Kirby, an online vintage clothing reseller and (many moons ago) an ex-Penneys employee.

And what do the people do? “People are just buying and buying! and then clothes are just getting thrown all over the place! and you’re just like, ‘these were made for nothing and they’re just being thrown around, I actually can’t believe this!’.” — and that’s just on a normal day.

For Sally, who owns Free Spirit Vintage, a sustainable vintage reselling business, she thanks Penneys for teaching her one thing — just how bad fast fashion had really become.

“Penneys did really help me get to where I am because it made me realise how bad fast fashion actually was by just being there.” Sally Kirby

Now she works full-time on her Depop site, and as well as selling second-hand vintage pieces, she urges shoppers to seek more sustainable alternatives to fast fashion. “I always, always, say, it’s about sustainability. If you’re not going to buy my vintage clothes buy someone else’s, go to other vintage pages or go to a second-hand shop.”

With retail around Ireland beginning to open up, she worries about how shoppers may react after being locked out of their favourite high-street stores for so long. “I can just see all the people running into the shops, and I’m like ‘oh my god!’", she cringes.

“It’s going to be irresistible for people, but I do think sustainable fashion is growing on people and it’s just about spreading the word a bit now.”

Coming from a family of vintage, second-hand and antique sellers, the make-do-and-mend approach very much runs in her family. The only difference is that Sally comes from the internet generation, whereby leveraging social media to promote business is almost second nature — something that perplexes her family.

“They have no idea! They don’t know anything about social media.” But, her dad — wanting to benefit from the untapped marketplace — persists in asking her, “can you show me the Instagram thing?”, She laughs.

Sally is part of a new generation of sellers — the “slow fashion” advocates that swap breakneck consumerism for ethical and sustainable alternatives. To do this, many buyers and sellers flock to the app Depop to find and sell unique items in an attempt to veer away from the fast fashion industry. Embraced by Gen Z — Depop, the social shopping app that combines Instagram aesthetics and e-bay selling, has provided a legitimate way for anyone to clear out their wardrobe and make some money on the side. The app currently has 26 million users worldwide and a rapidly growing market in Ireland.

Free Spirit Vintage is as much a passion for Sally as it is a job and a way to promote sustainable alternatives.

“I’m promoting people to buy more sustainable clothes or to at least just be more conscious about the clothes they have. I didn’t think I’d be anywhere like where I am now, I just kept going because I loved it. I was doing it for sustainability and I was doing it because it’s my passion.” Sally Kirby

Aimee McGrath, owner of OwnThreadsVintage. Photograph: Aimee McGrath

Aimee McGrath, another Depop reseller, having always enjoyed buying items in charity shops, decided to set up her account to sell on some of the clothes she thought her friends might like.

“When I started shopping in charity shops originally it was just for me but then I started finding stuff that’s not my style but I would know someone who would love to wear it and it would look really cool on them. So then I just started buying stuff to resell on Depop.” Aimee, owner of Ownthreads Vintage, says.

Shortly after joining Depop to resell vintage clothing items, she noticed that many of the sellers were talking about sustainability.

“You weren’t taught much about sustainability or fast fashion when you were younger. You were just told ‘recycle’ and that was it.” Aimee McGrath

“Looking at the different vintage pages and Depop pages that I followed, I saw they were all about this ‘sustainability’. I just started doing a bit of research and all the stuff I found about the fast fashion industry was just insane, it was mindblowing. I was just like ‘this is ridiculous!, I’m not being a part of this anymore’. So I’ve been fully sustainable, clothing wise, for about a year and a half now.”

Since the beginning of lockdown, and with plenty of free time on her hands, she took to Depop full time and began learning to sew in order to re-work some of the clothes she bought.

“There’s a lot of things that I don’t think people realise how easy they are to do, especially with certain clothes. If people opened up their mind more to clothes and what they can do with them, I think they would definitely see a different side to them and to their wardrobe. I got bored of a top the other day and I just completely chopped it up and brought in the sides a little bit and it’s literally a brand new top.”

Aimee, much like Sally, resells because she loves doing it and wants to encourage people to shop sustainably.

“For me, It’s not really a job at all, It’s just such a passion and a hobby. It’s not about the money, it’s about re-working or giving a piece of clothing to someone that someone else would have just thrown out.” Aimee McGrath

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