Re-sale app Depop is making waves overseas, and for Berlin-based Kiwi Abbey Looker it has gone from being a side hustle to a full-time business.
From selling a few personal pieces here and there to make some extra cash, to being stocked at famous London department store Selfridges, it’s been a roller coaster ride for Abbey since launching her vintage store Ramonas on Depop. We caught up with her to talk about how Depop is changing the resale market, and she tells us about the journey of growing and running her flourishing business.
When did you first start using Depop and why?
Almost two and a half years ago. I heard about it from a friend and was curious, but I was almost solely using it as a buyer. I listed a couple of things here and there, but they were terribly photographed and thrown together with absolutely no care. I didn’t sell a single thing for almost a year.
I’m VERY technologically challenged and my background has always been in hospitality (I used to own a cafe in New Zealand and was cooking in London) so it didn’t even enter my mind to start selling seriously for a very long time. BUT I was so broke in London and SO tired of hearing myself moan about it, so I just started.
I’ve always been a serious hoarder of beautiful things, so getting together a selection of garments from my personal wardrobe wasn’t a problem and posed little financial risk… and low and behold they sold! I was seriously pretty shocked as slowly but surely, piece by piece, they left me for new homes all over England. This was around August 2018, and by October I was earning more than my cooking job and by December 2018 it was my full-time job.
Read more: Everything you need to know about Depop
It’s been a pretty whirlwind experience for me. I went from listing my first items properly to it being my full-time job within a few months; from shooting on my iPhone in my bedroom and being broke all the time to having a huge permanent photography studio and office. It also funded an extended trip home this year that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
I’ve been reinvesting most of what I make into growing the business, and that’s exactly what it is doing – growing and still very quickly. I would like to employ someone in the near future so that I can start to have a little more life and work balance.
I never in a million years would have guessed this is what I would be doing for my job. I couldn’t in my wildest of dreams have even imagined this, I often have to pinch myself or hope I don’t wake up from this rather pleasant dream.
What was that journey like?
HONESTLY, IT’S BEEN WILD! If you had told me a year ago I would be selling clothes full time, running my own successful business, that personal shopper and stylist would be on my CV, and my clothes would be for sale in SELFRIDGES I would have laughed in your face.
Sitting down and writing these responses has actually been really helpful in acknowledging all that Ramonas has achieved in such a short period.
I have always idealised people that work in the creative industries – especially fashion, photography, styling, and production – but never considered myself capable of it. I’ve also always been so restricted by the ideas I have of myself and I’m SO grateful for Depop for giving me a platform of self-expression and exploration.
The Depop journey started with no expectation and every step along the way has been a complete surprise to me; I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. If I had any notion that it might be a career that requires skills I never thought I possessed I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it. Instead, it has been a million tiny successes and, for me, a lot of self-discovery at finding something I’m really good at and coming to terms with that!
What does a typical day look like for you?
My work schedule is admittedly a little unhealthy at the moment which is something I’m working on, trying to figure out how best to mitigate some of the challenges that come with running a business alone.
Depop being follower based is great for creating a loyal following, but it also means you are attached to your phone at all times – customers expect instant responses at all times of the day. Holidays? Weekends? Office hours? I don’t think so! I work generally from about 8 am in the morning and don’t put down my phone until at least 10 pm at night.
I’m usually up by 8 am check my messages from bed and respond to any customer queries that came in overnight. I will usually post a couple of listing in the morning to make sure I’m popping up on everyone’s feeds first thing.
I post [sold items on] Monday, Wednesday and Friday, which usually takes most of the morning – packaging, double-checking orders, and taking them to be shipped. I usually go buy [stock] at a supplier or mosey around the thrift stores a couple of times a week too.
Afternoons are usually spent photographing – I shoot myself in everything. I have just got a studio this month but before that, I would shoot in my bedroom, kitchen or (since I’ve moved to Berlin) a 1m x 1.5m window nook.
By the time I set up the camera and backdrop, get the clothes from where everything is stored (we are on the sixth floor with no elevator) steam and style each outfit, that leaves time and light to shoot for an hour or two before I have to pack it all back up.
Then I’ll spend time cropping and selecting the photos to use for each listing, and answer queries from customers. I usually do all the other miscellaneous office work that comes with running a business then too.
I usually take a break in the evening to cook a meal and do some chores around the house. After dinner, we usually put the TV on while I do listings until about 10 pm! The questions, queries and constant customer service never ends though. I’ll often still be responding to people at 1 am. Weekends I try not to shoot but often I will, as well as go to markets for finding stock, and do listing for at least 5 hours a day as this is a busy time on Depop!
You’ve been selling vintage one way or another for years – what is it about secondhand clothing that you love?
Oh, I was born to be a treasure hunter. It’s just a way of life. With my mother, it was not optional for which I am forever grateful. Mum was raised in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico under the guidance of her gramo Ramona (my namesake and the name of the store) who was a seriously fabulous woman.
They never had a penny to rub together but that never held them back from being extremely passionate about fashion and very well dressed women. Ramona handstitched the most ridiculously beautiful outfits for mum or altered thrifted clothing even when her hands were deformed with arthritis (most of which mum or I still own and wear today).
She taught mum the value of quality and longevity of a garment, the joy of the hunt and the respect of beautiful things – which my mum passed on to me!
What influences the aesthetic or range in your Depop store?
I’m influenced by everything! The people around me, my friends who are all so effortlessly chic, what’s happening in the industry in general, music, movies, etc.
What influences your personal style?
Again I’m influenced by everything. Clothing is so theatrical for me; I love the way you can change the way you feel, look and are perceived just by changing your outfit. I would say my style is eclectic and irrational. It’s pretty all over the place, though nothing makes me feel sexier than a good pair of jeans.
Also having a persona and a strong look for Ramonas photos is pretty exhausting. I often want to leave that in the office at the end of the day. I have a very embarrassing large collection of soft holey cotton or wool clothing – that have usually been passed down from my mum – that I can’t let go of in constant rotation. I’m overly sentimental when it comes to clothes.
What do you love about Depop and why?
It’s changing the way the world and the fashion industry look at second-hand clothing at such a vital time for our environment! [Fashion] can’t continue the way it has, and Depop is really at the forefront of this change.
For me personally, Depop represents a pretty safe space with a community of likeminded people where I have so much freedom to express myself. Stock is finite, and there aren’t going to be a million other people dressed exactly like you! It’s a place you can actually be unique.
Why do you think Depop has become so successful overseas – and will we see the same in NZ?
I think [it’s because of] the way that the content is presented; the focus is on pictures and simplicity. Also, a huge part of its success comes it being a follower based platform. It’s how young people derive value – by being told by someone they admire exactly what to buy.
Depop removes the guesswork and effort that comes with vintage shopping someone does all the hard work for you. It requires no imagination or time; you get to see it steamed, styled on real people, with real-life bodies all presented on an interface that is familiar, attractive and easy to use.
What do you look for when sourcing?
I pretty much only buy what I would wear myself or something that I instantly fall in love with. Items have to either have one or all of the following: high-quality fabric, high-quality construction, ridiculous sleeves or patterns, and extravagant silhouettes.
What’s the process of shooting and creating a look like for you?
The process is constantly evolving. I used to just throw on what I was shooting with whatever I happened to be wearing at the time, and just bang it out as fast as possible; semi-blurry photos on my iPhone selfie camera with the self-timer whenever the sun shone in my room.
Now I have a proper camera that I’m figuring out how to use (I’ve never taken photos before in my life) and it’s almost always an experiment. I use a Canon 80D and a remote shutter that works pretty well. I was using my phone as a remote; the photos were pretty funny, and everyone thought it was some kind of horrible prop.
Recently I have also started to treat it as more of a professional shoot – as I now have space in my studio to take time to do things properly. I actually style each look, and have just discovered nail polish and starting to experiment with makeup for the first time in my life.
I actually did my first shoot on someone else the other week which was really exciting!
Do certain garments or eras sell better on Depop?
I haven’t noticed a trend in anything particular that sells well; the usual suspects like denim, designer [items] and white puffy blouses always tick over. Anything that’s stand-out and super unique usually gets snapped up within minutes of being listed.
As long as I stick to picking products that I believe in they almost always sell, while anything I’ve ever listed that has been a good price but average quality always sits around forever.
Is it a challenge to offer inclusive sizing when it comes to vintage?
I think that’s a pretty common misconception; of course vintage comes in all sizes, but it is very difficult to find anything oversize 10 in most vintage stores. Which is crazy, as it’s the most abundant when buying from wholesalers, but most of it just goes straight to the landfill because no one buys it!
There is very little representation for inclusive sizing in the industry at all. I just think that whole area of the market is overlooked in the same way it has been in mainstream fashion. That’s got to change though!
It must be said that Ramonas is the absolute worst for it too, it’s something I’m acutely aware of and actually quite ashamed of!
Space and storage restraints mean I’ve only been able to shoot on myself (which is VERY small) and can only get away with altering up to a certain extent without them looking horrible. I also don’t feel comfortable advertising clothes on a body that doesn’t represent the person looking to buy it! It’s not fair and it’s weird.
Now I have a studio I’m really excited to shoot on other people, and include a better range of sizes for everybody!
What are some of the roadblocks or challenges you have encountered as a Depop seller and how did you overcome them?
For me the biggest challenge is working alone – that you have to figure everything out for yourself is a bit of a punishing journey, especially when you start to become busy. Simple things like logistics, packaging, scams on PayPal, clear communication, your rights as a seller, etc. There is no clear recipe yet or no way to access that information.
Because it is such a new platform it’s always changing, improving and growing; it requires a lot of thinking on your feet and patience. It’s much better now I’m a top seller and included in the top seller community which allows you to share tips and information.
Also literally working alone from home is very tough for me, it can be quite lonely and difficult to feel any sense of achievement when your home space is also your workspace. It’s hard to put it down.
You are also at the mercy of your often VERY young customers, who can be pretty unreasonable and demanding.
How did the Selfridges pop-up come about and what was the experience like?
Depop did a collaboration with Selfridges in which they were given a space in the department store for different sellers, who represented the brand and identity of Depop, to curate the space with their garments for a week.
I think it went on for six weeks, with two different London sellers each week. I was lucky enough to be spotted by the creative director and asked to participate, even though I no longer live in London.
Ramonas ended up staying in Selfridges for an extra couple of weeks as our collection was so popular! I was very honoured to be a part of it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it into store to see it myself, but the feedback I’ve had has been really positive!
What pieces do you recommend people look for when vintage shopping?
Whatever makes your heart beat faster.
Why is vintage shopping so important?
The obvious one is we only have one earth and the way we produce clothes and the way the industry has taught us to think about clothing is unsustainable and honestly pretty disgusting.
We need to be taught to value our clothing (things in general), to move past seeing them as single-use items, to mend, and to care, to reuse, to swap, and trade. An outfit isn’t for one night only; with the tiniest amount of creativity and care, things can be worn again and again and again.
What should people keep in mind when buying vintage clothing, especially online?
Don’t buy the first thing you kind of like when you’re searching for something in particular (I’m the worst for this). Be discerning, read the listings properly, look closely at the photos, buy good fabrics.
Do you think the perception of vintage has changed in recent years?
Yes! I used to get bullied for wearing secondhand clothes in high school, not having the latest board shorts, or wearing something to mufti day twice. I used to feel so much shame and resentment to spend my weekends at op shops and garage sales with my mum.
Now vintage implies integrity and creativity as you have to create a look all on your own; it takes time and an eye. You can’t buy a whole look from Zara off the rack for $50
Do you think vintage shopping platforms like Depop are helping to change our relationship with secondhand clothing?
I think [they are] making it accessible to people who wouldn’t feel comfortable rummaging at charity shops, or for people who just don’t have the time or the ability to pick the diamond out of the rough but who still want to shop sustainably. I think Depop has started a fashion whole world of its own and it’s just getting started!
What are your plans for the future with your business?
Mostly I’m going to just keep letting it grow naturally see where it takes me. I miss New Zealand but also love Berlin, and buying and travelling around Europe is pretty dreamy. So maybe I’ll grow [my business] to the point where I can split my time pretty evenly between the two. I would really love to establish the business in New Zealand too, I just don’t know if it’s ready yet.
Some small personal things I want: Use its success to try new things and work with interesting people, travel, do fun shoots on friends in romantic Italian locations all summer long.
What advice can you give people who are new to Depop – either buyers or sellers?
If you want to start it as a business don’t be disheartened if it’s a very slow burn at the start. Have fun with it; it’s all about the photos – be creative and most of all be consistent. CLEARLY describe your items and leave clear terms and conditions at the bottom of every listing and PLEASE for your own sake send everything tracked.