Depop’s CEO on the future of fashion and finding a path to profitability

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Depop's CEO Kruti Patel Goyal on the Future of Fashion and Finding a Path to Profitability
Depop's CEO Kruti Patel Goyal Courtesy of Depop
By Armani Syed
Reporter

It takes a good few minutes to walk from one side of Depop’s London headquarters to the other. The open-plan space, complete with its own bar, is so large that I’m told some staff members use scooters to travel its lengths. As Depop's CEO Kruti Patel Goyal and I tour the floor, we pass by Leather Choker, Low Rise Jeans, and Fishnets. Not the questionable garments and accessories themselves, but rooms named after fashion trends over the years.

I sat down with Patel Goyal in May in her office, named "Boots with the (Faux) Fur." It’s in the Y2K part of the office and takes its name from lyrics to the 2007 hit song Low by Flo Rida, but Depop, in a nod to its environmentally conscious mission and ethics, has added “faux” to the name. Depop merchandise is also printed on recycled Fruit of the Loom sweaters, and staff are encouraged to bring unwanted items to a clothes swap rail by the entrance.

Since its founding in 2011, secondhand clothing marketplace Depop, one of this year’s TIME100 Most Influential Companies, has succeeded in one thing above all else: making circular fashion cool. From preloved mall favorites to vintage and reworked garments, Depop’s inventory has attracted a user base that grew by 17% to around 35 million—predominantly Gen Z and millennial—users in 2023. While smaller than platforms like Poshmark, Depop has fostered cachet with the most eco-conscious generations.

Under Patel Goyal’s leadership, Depop, a subsidiary of Etsy, last year scrapped its 10% selling fees in the U.K. And users can now shop items associated with emerging trends on the app using AI recommendations. Sales on the platform grew by 9% to $600 million in the 2023 financial year and Patel Goyal told TIME that she is focused on scaling up in the longer term.

She also touched on building lifelong relationships with customers and why the competitive landscape is good for sustainable fashion.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What motivated your move from the role of chief product officer at Etsy to Depop?

The thing that made this business most appealing to me is that it is similarly a community powered, machine-driven business. The questions that I asked myself were, do I believe in the product and mission? Our mission is to make fashion circular, the impact that we can have on millions of people and the planet is really inspiring. And so the answer to that first question was absolutely yes. The second question was do I feel like this is an opportunity to keep stretching and growing? Certainly, yes. It's my first time stepping into a CEO role. And the third question is, do I feel like I can bring something unique to this business that will allow me to help it grow and thrive. And that's when I looked back at my time at Etsy and said, “Wow, this is how all of this that I've done fits together, and sets me up to really help bring a new perspective to the pot to help them through this next phase of growth.”

Can you tell me about your career journey, was it a linear process?

I wouldn't consider my career journey linear but I do think of my career in two pretty distinct phases. The first was about exploring different industries and different roles to figure out what it was that I was meant to do, what it was I do really well, what it is that I found meaning in. I found myself across a number of industries over that first 10, or so years of my career, from finance to then media, and to the nonprofit world. I had a few really critical insights from that part of my journey that helped me find my mission and my purpose. The first was that I wanted to be on the inside of business, building something rather than on the outside looking in.

I landed at Etsy and that began the second phase of my career. I found passion and purpose around a mission that really resonated with me. I spent the last decade plus of my career really learning peer to peer marketplace businesses and community-driven businesses. I like to say I work my way around the business rather than working my way up. My last role there was this chief product officer. And then in September 2022, I made the transition from Etsy to Depop. Looking back, it seems so clear how each of the experiences that I have really fit together to set me up to lead this business, a community-driven marketplace with such a clear, positive potential for impact.

What are Depop’s priorities under your leadership?

Our big ambition ahead of us is to offer people a more compelling alternative to buying. If you look at the market opportunity, the resale market is obviously huge and growing fast. The global resale is estimated to grow to $350 billion by 2027. But what's really exciting is that resale is going at three times the rate of the broader retail fashion industry, which means that people are choosing to buy resale more. As we think about that ambition of offering a more compelling alternative to buying new, there are three things that we need to deliver on; the first is making buying and selling on the marketplace incredibly simple and efficient. The second is really leaning into what differentiates Depop, which is more than just a transaction, it's offering an inspiring and engaging personalized experience. And then the third thing that we will do to get there is to bring Depop to a bigger and broader audience over time.

What valuable lessons have you learned during your career?

Early in the first phase of my career, one of the things that I was really struck by, particularly working in an industry that was being disrupted by technology, was just how critical it is to really listen to your user community and to be able to respond quickly to what they need and want to really serve them well. And I think that that's a lot of what led me to work in a technology business and particularly in a product driven company, where the core of being able to build a great business comes from that active listening.

The other big learning that I would call out is really about leadership. When I started out my career, I thought that being a great leader was about having all the answers and that's how you gave direction. What I've realized in my career is actually great leadership is about doing two things really well—providing really great clarity of purpose and direction so that people can understand how their work collectively contributes to the common goal, and creating an environment where people are empowered to do great work and actually figure out the answers themselves.

Depop has a young demographic. How will you build lifelong customer relationships and retain their interest as they age?

The opportunity for us is to be more than just a place where you buy but a place where you find inspiration. And I think that that's ageless. Our offering really resonates with young people, but that's not limited to Gen Z. Our value proposition sits at the intersection of style, value, and sustainability, that core value proposition really sets us apart. We are in the early years of this business, our offering really struck a chord with young consumers, particularly because they care more than any generation before them about the impact that their choices have on the world around them. But this idea of wanting to find great style, at a great value and shop in a way that is more sustainable over the long term is more important to people across generations.

Resale platforms can become gentrified as sellers use them to create lucrative businesses. Is Depop accessible across all economic backgrounds at the selling and buying level?

What we offer and how that reflects the broader community that we serve is incredibly important to us. In terms of who we serve, anyone can be successful selling on Depop. And we see that the stories of our sellers are as diverse as individuals out in the world. Certainly you have stories of really incredible influencers for creative professionals who have built a business, or launched their own fashion lines, but equally, you have far more individuals around the world who are selling unwanted stuff from their closets. Our sellers come from all different backgrounds, and have all different motivations and ideas of success. In terms of what you can find, we sell items across styles and across price points. You can find everyday wear and you can find occasion wear—or items that you can't find anywhere else. And that's what makes Depop so amazing. It's the uniqueness and the breadth of our inventory.

One of Depop’s priorities under previous leadership was to attract more diverse employees and users. Have you inherited this priority and what do these efforts look like?

Diversity is incredibly important to us in multiple dimensions. First of all, building diverse teams is an incredibly important priority. It is both the right thing to do and it's good business. We know that more diverse teams are more effective and more creative because of the diversity of thought that they bring to the table, particularly for a product driven technology business. The more diverse our team is, the more that reflects the community that we serve, and the better we are at building a product and experience that serves that diversity of needs.

One of the ways that we get there is from the top. I'm really proud that we've built a leadership team that is 60% women, and ethnically diverse. We set public goals that we publish every year around our impact goals, and that includes our diversity goals. We measure ourselves on those regularly, and publish how we're doing. Every hiring manager is required to have a diverse pool of candidates that we interview because you can't find candidates, you can't hire people, if you are not looking at a diverse pool.

With the emergence of key competitors such as Vinted, how does Depop stay competitive?

Fundamentally, we believe that the future of fashion is simpler. And what that means is, it’s a good sign that there are more and more businesses that are innovating within the circular fashion space. That means more businesses, more business models, that means resale players are participating in reselling circular fashion. We're glad to see it, because it means that that brings more and more people into realizing that resale is a great option for living that more circular lifestyle. We have a really unique and powerful value proposition that sits at that intersection of style, sustainability and value. And I think if you look at other competitors, they might be really great at one or maybe two of those but Depop really stands apart in how we deliver across all three. Finding that combination in one place is more and more important to consumers.

What is your plan to make the business profitable?

Profitability is definitely something that's important and something that's in focus. I think that to have that long term impact that we want to have, being profitable is the underpinnings of a really sustainable long term business. It’s definitely something that we're working towards over the next few years and I think that the most important factor is continuing to grow the business. We're really encouraged by what we're seeing in terms of the growth trends in the business over the last year, and this year as well.

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