Is Depop Greenwashing Fast Fashion?: Delving Into The Company’s Sustainability Plans

Sophie Robinson

Since its launch in 2011, Depop, a second hand clothing marketplace app, has become an essential for environmentally conscious consumers. It allows people to buy and sell unwanted clothing online in hopes that fashion lovers will adapt from fast fashion to more ethical consumerist choices. As an avid seller and consumer on Depop myself, I have begun to wonder how truly sustainable the company is in terms of its business practises and its relationship with the individual sellers.

Depop has released a sustainability plan for 2021-2022, in which the company sets out its aims to be ‘kinder to people and kinder to the planet’. What struck me as odd was its environmental aim to ‘thrive to reduce environmental impact and do no harm’. As a company which relies on the transport of goods across the UK and beyond, is it conceivable that they can aim to ‘do no harm’ and have no adverse effects on the environment at all?

The main environmental objectives set out in the sustainability plan focus on reducing carbon emissions. For example, they plan: to implement a ‘resource efficiency programme’ across offices to reduce waste generated, power the Depop offices with ‘100% renewable energy’, and offset shipping emissions to ‘achieve climate neutrality by the end of 2021’, which would mean enacting climate protection measures.

As demonstrated by the objectives, the company’s main environmental concern prioritises transforming the offices into sustainable sites, rather than combating the issue of carbon emissions created by carriage of goods. The plan acknowledges that shipping has the greatest impact on the company’s carbon footprint, however, it fails to detail the specific measures they will put in place to tackle this or whether they even have the vast amount of data on their sellers’ shipping habits and the subsequent environmental impact.

The sustainability plans should be rooted in transforming the practises of the sellers 

The sustainability plan was developed based on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, focusing on governance, people, the planet, and platform. However, the plan does not mention regulation of their seller’s business conduct. Depop is host to 2 million active sellers who contribute to 140,000 new item listings every single day, including thousands of items which are shipped internationally from the UK.

Therefore, the sustainability plans should be rooted in transforming the practises of the sellers, such as encouraging them to use recyclable or biodegradable packaging and hire couriers which offset their own carbon emissions, rather than leaving it up to Depop to manage without specific figures on item shipping. The company could use its platform to encourage sellers to follow these environmental habits to help Depop’s ultimate goal of being climate neutral.

Furthermore, many sellers on the app exploit trends to earn a bit of extra cash which is turning people away from slow fashion alternatives. Over the first lockdown, sellers were branding items from clothing companies such as Brandy Melville as ‘rare’ and ‘deadstock’, allowing them to sell the item with a markup of up to 100% of the RRP. As of more recently, people have been using extremely cheap fast fashion brands such as Shein to buy goods in order to resell at a higher price. These companies are accused of mass producing goods in slave-like working conditions, often using child labour and not paying their workers sufficiently.

This entire dilemma is rooted in the gentrification of Depop and trend-based consumerism

Another example includes sellers buying trendy items from charity shops and reselling them on Depop for a massive profit. This not only deprives people with lower incomes from affordable clothing, but also inflates prices on the Depop marketplace which only forces buyers back to fast fashion to look for cheaper alternatives.

This entire dilemma is rooted in the gentrification of Depop and trend-based consumerism. People who want to use Depop to be more sustainable are often put off by the inflated prices because they simply cannot afford it. Therefore, Depop needs to encourage its sellers to make ethical selling decisions, such as their markup percentage, whether they should ship internationally (when there are plenty of other options for clothing in the destination country), and where they source their items from.

Ultimately, Depop is one of the few big clothing companies in the UK which acknowledges the importance of having sustainable measures in place. However, over the past few years it has almost become another link in the fast fashion chain supplying consumers with unethical fashion. As a result, I think that Depop should revise their sustainability plan with a focus on building relationships with their sellers, which would allow them to encourage better habits and regulate the items that are sold through their system.

Depop has always stood as an adversary to the big fast fashion brands, and their message of environmental preservation has built them to the successful company they are today. Shopping second hand is always better than fast fashion consumption, making Depop one of the only environmentally conscious online clothing platforms.

Sophie Robinson

Featured image courtesy of Lucas Hoang via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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