When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, small business owners feared for the existence of their livelihoods. While some thrived, others dived, and schemes such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) allowed businesses to furlough employees was a help for established companies but for start-ups and one man bands, less so.
Small businesses couldn’t quite benefit in the same way, largely because many small businesses are one man/woman teams and possibly they weren’t established before the furlough payroll application in October 2020.
What did this mean for small businesses then? Well, they either adapted or stagnated.Immy Man (@immyman8) is a verified Depop seller, with more than 17,000 followers and a colossal sold list of 1,372 items: “I started selling on Depop in 2015, since then it’s just taken off and it’s now my main source of income. I do it part time alongside university, but plan to take it full time after.”
Immy is well and truly an example of not only surviving but thriving during the pandemic. A massive factor of her success was quite simply that she is online.
Immy’s did have initial concerns when lockdown was announced: “I was definitely worried about people’s incomes. Many people were losing jobs and only essential retail could stay open, such as supermarkets. I just thought that people probably didn’t have that extra spending money, and wouldn’t be able to go and get nonessential items, like clothing.”
Alongside that, her whole sourcing approach had to change: “Another worry I had was about the type of fashion people were looking for, particularly on second-hand markets like eBay and Depop.” She went on to say: “People didn’t need to get ‘going out’ clothes, because there was nowhere to go, so that affected the kind of clothes I was looking for. I was looking for comfy loungewear rather than going out/evening wear.”According to Fashion United UK: “Demand for loungewear and casual wear surged by 49% year-on-year during March and April.” Other fashion categories haven’t been so lucky, “Formalwear sales plummeted 25% during the period as consumers no longer had occasions to dress up for.”
However, research also showed that consumers were still purchasing across the board, because let’s not forget Zoom calls and videoconferencing still meant we had to look presentable from the waist up.
“Although some areas have seen a significant drop … some consumers are clearly still purchasing across all categories. With videoconferencing commonplace, there is certainly still a need to look and feel smart – but I’d predict that retailers which have pivoted to promote their loungewear and casual wear will be the clear winners for some time,” said Elliott Clayton, senior vice-president of data marketing firm Epsilon-Conversant.
Immy’s sourcing switched from in person and dealing with suppliers, to fully online. “My initial hurdle was that I couldn’t go to my usual place for supply, I had to buy online. Buying online is a lot harder because obviously you can’t see the clothes in real life. Also things tend to be a lot more expensive online,” she explained.
Once Immy had adapted and altered her selling techniques, her shop flourished during lockdown. Many positives came out of the stresses: “It made me realise I could take Depop full time.”
This was great news for many other Depop sellers; the site has cultivated 10 million users since being established in 2011. Immy was invited to sit in on a panel, organised by UCL, with Simon Beckermann, the creator of Depop.“Activity on the app more than doubled because of Covid, and that business has not been affected in any negative way. The reason that might be is that people don’t have the opportunity to spend money going out to concerts, you’re not spending money travelling to work,” Simon noted.
There were other positives of Immy adapting her ways: “I also found myself being more creative. Rather than just buying and selling I did a lot more customising. Bleaching jeans and tracky bottoms and this was extremely popular with my buyers and audience.”
This is a beautiful disposition to the government’s “Rethink, reboot and reskill” campaign, which received astronomical backlash. Many people felt the government was trying to encourage them to ditch creativity and gain more ‘useful’ skills, such as coding. Not only did Immy increased her cyber-creativity, but she utilised it, proving that you didn’t need to sacrifice your instinctive skills to survive during the pandemic.The obvious differences between large and small businesses are the teams behind them. When asked, “What is something you would want people to know about running a small business?” Immy responded with, “It’s a lot of hard work. It’s just me, I don’t have a team. Particularly on Depop, some seem to think it’s just a case of selling a secondhand items at an inflated price. For me it’s not.”
Immy went on to say, “It’s sourcing items, photography and uploading, communication, postage and packing. It all takes so much time, any money made pays most importantly for that person’s time and effort.”
Another aspect Immy wanted to highlight was: “I also think that when a mistake is made by a small business, it’s a lot harder to rectify compared to big corporations. You can’t just easily refund someone (particularly when pieces are one of a kind).”
Ultimately, it is obvious why Immy has managed to continue to fly high on Depop – she welcomed the challenge, adapted and grew because of it.
The pandemic has stopped many aspects of our lives, but it certainly hasn’t stopped the interest in timeless pieces and the talent of Depop sellers.
Featured image by Immy Man via Instagram.
Edited by Betty Wales-Hulbert and Natalia Zmarzlik.