Accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater, the impact of the fashion industry on the environment cannot be overstated. Ten years ago, long before sustainable fashion was the topic du jour, Simon Beckerman created Depop, a marketplace app for second-hand fashion: “Fashion for a better future.”
Born in Italy, Beckerman was raised by an English father and Italian mother. “I’ve been passionate about design, drawing and technical art – architecture for example – all my life.” Following art high school, he studied architecture and industrial design at the Politecnico di Milano, before dropping out. A varied stint of art-focused jobs followed.
A serial entrepreneur
In 1998, together with his brother, Beckerman launched a lifestyle magazine, which sought out the most creative and up-and-coming talents across the world in fashion, music and design. The magazine became one of the most influential fashion and music magazines in Italy, “We were the magazine all the young kids used to read.”
In 2007, the duo launched another business; this time, a sunglasses brand called Retrosuperfuture. “We wanted to be a new voice in this world, which was dominated by companies like Ray-Ban, Oakley, Armani and Gucci.” With an emphasis on innovative design and production, their sunglasses were soon being copied by bigger brands. They were the first to launch a line of coloured acetate sunglasses, soon worn around the world by the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and David Beckham. “Kanye West liked them so much he wore them in four of his music videos.”
The Depop journey
“The spark for Depop isn’t very romantic actually,” Beckerman admits. In 2011, whilst thinking up ways to find new revenue streams for the magazine, he came upon e-commerce; it seemed like the perfect way to sell the brands that were promoted in the magazine.
Beckerman drew the app himself – actually drew it, with a pencil and paper, sitting at a desk in Milan. He wanted a curated home feed with a social network dynamic. Like Instagram and Twitter, you would be able to ‘follow’ your friends and see what others bought, discovering new things through them.
“It was like a brick that fell on my head,” he says. “Suddenly I realised that, instead of us listing the items for sale from the brands, we could give the opportunity to anybody within the community to sell their own things.” They invited stylists, vintage collectors and other creatives to come onboard. His previous experiences in business proved invaluable. He was able to take that same vision of creating a community, which thinks outside the box, and he applied it to Depop. These were people who would not follow trends, but create them.
Beckerman came to London in 2012 to pitch to investors. The first big investor was Balderton Capital, a leading technology venture firm which has also invested in Revolut and Betfair. More investors (like Creandum, the first investors of Spotify) came on board and Beckerman built a team, launching in the UK in 2013. Steadily, Depop grew. Now there are 28 million users; 100,000 items are sold every day. Head officed in Shoreditch, London, there are offices across the world in New York, Los Angeles, Manchester, Sydney and Venice.
Ahead of the times
Was timing the key to Depop’s success? “We were very early with mobile apps,” he says. Realising that the design and user experience of social media apps was here to stay, he applied the same design and the principle of social networking to Depop. It could have been an e-commerce site like any other but, because of Beckerman, it was more.
So too was Depop a pioneer in sustainability. “Sustainability has always been part of our core values and principles,” but Beckerman never could have imagined how important it would become as a topic for the world. “We have contributed to it becoming such an important topic. Fifteen years ago, buying vintage clothes meant going to a thrift store in Brick Lane and rummaging through baskets of clothes. With an app like Depop, or Vestiaire Collective, you can buy vintage with the same experience of buying something new.”
It takes courage and creativity
It was a bumpy ride at times; the technicalities of building the backend of the app resulted in a lot of mistakes. And, as the company grew, with a huge influx of users, it was tricky to maintain the company’s culture and founding values. A fast-growth business has fast-changing needs and the senior leadership team had to adapt and expand quickly. “It is a case of learning and re-learning constantly,” he says.
Not being afraid of making mistakes and accepting that failure is a part of life have been ingrained in Beckerman since childhood. “Everything we do in life is subject to fears of failure, whether that’s a small thing or a big thing. My parents taught me to be curious and never said no to me, so it helped me grow up without thinking about the limits.” When he came to London to pitch Depop, it took courage starting somewhere new, leaving his family behind, but it was a case of what was best for the business.
Beckerman also credits his ability to think outside the box as instrumental to his success. “To reach the goals that we did, we had to do it with an open mind, always thinking further than you think you can.”
Firstly, Beckerman describes with great pride handing the company over to the new CEO and leaving, realising all the hard work had paid off. Secondly, it was his mum, describing his app to an elderly friend in a remote village in the mountains near Parma. Her friend countered, “Oh, is it like Depop?”
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