Is it safe to back-to-school shop on Poshmark and at secondhand stores during a pandemic? Experts weigh in

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Is it safe to shop at thrift stores and online during COVID-19?
Is it safe to shop at thrift stores and online during COVID-19?

As we transition into fall, students are still looking for back-to-school clothing that is stylish and affordable, whether they are in a Zoom class online or in-person on campus. With trends changing daily, many people opt to buy and sell previously-loved clothing, shoes and accessories through online social commerce platforms like Poshmark.

When Canada entered lockdown in March, stores remained closed and shoppers weren’t able to head to their favourite thrift store to go through racks of sustainable clothing. This made many people take their thrift game online to change the way they purchased secondhand goods.

PhD student Kate Bauer says she still spends her free time re-selling her closet on Poshmark so she can remain up-to-date with the trends.

Bauer tells Yahoo Lifestyle Canada that her Poshmark shop didn’t see a decline in sales during the pandemic and that it’s “actually been the busiest time for my online sales.”

Thrifters ‘already used to cleaning and caring for items’

“I think people who were already comfortable shopping secondhand didn’t change their opinion during the pandemic – we thrifters are already used to cleaning and caring for the items we bring in to our homes,” adds Bauer. “I found myself also doing a lot of shopping for myself because I missed the experience of going thrifting in person.”

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Bauer confidently says that she personally does not have concerns about secondhand clothing during the pandemic. “The best part about buying pre-loved clothing is that you can throw it right in the wash as soon as you get it,” she adds.

“Shopping on secondhand apps like Poshmark also means that your goodies have to be sent in the mail – most of the time for long enough that any possible contamination on the item is long gone. There is no more risk with purchasing used items than there is going to the mall to buy brand new clothing,” says Bauer.

She also adds that it’s not the items that are the concern, but rather how we behave. “As long as we keep washing our hands and wearing masks, the danger of virus transmission goes down exponentially.”

A great source of extra cash

She says now that thrift stores are open, she’s had a lot of luck sourcing really interesting things, particularly vintage, since it seems like a lot of people spent quarantine clearing out their closets.

“I know, both personally and from other people that I’ve connected with through reselling, that Poshmark has been a great source of extra money at a time where a lot of people lost income due to closures or layoffs. It’s kept me sane during an otherwise crazy time,” Bauer adds.

Bauer says that if you are concerned about possible exposure to COVID-19, you should thrift around less busy times, which she says are mid-morning on weekdays and later in the evenings. She also adds that you should bring your own supply of hand sanitizer, wear gloves and a mask. She also suggests to quarantine your new items for 24 hours or wash them with hot water before bringing them into your bedroom or closet.

“I think most thrifters are already aware of the importance of sanitization when buying from thrift stores. This is something we did before the pandemic and something that we continue to do now,” says Bauer.

How to clean items you purchase secondhand

Dr. David Finn, a medical director at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Yahoo Lifestyle Canada that he feels that it is safe to thrift shop during the pandemic.

“As with most issues related to interacting with people outside of those immediately around you, the risk is related to the types of interactions, the prevalence of the virus in that location and trust that the people you are interacting with are taking precautions,” says Finn. “In general, I do feel it is safe to thrift shop.”

Finn echoes Bauer’s suggestion of washing the secondhand clothing in hot water after purchasing it.

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“If you are purchasing used clothing online, I would recommend washing the clothing in hot water with soap or laundry detergent prior to wearing,” suggests Finn. “If you are purchasing in a store, you should also wash the clothing and take the normal precautions of shopping in any store by wearing a mask, sanitize your hands after touching clothes and do not touch your face until your hands are sanitized.”

Finn says that he is not aware of any cases of COVID being transmitted by clothing purchased either in a store or online.

No significant health risk

Lisa Yakas, a trained microbiologist with NSF International (formerly National Sanitation Foundation), says that based on what we know about the virus today, resale clothes should not present a significant COVID risk.

“We recommend washing and drying resale clothes before you wear them and avoid touching your face, nose or eyes after handling them,” says Yakas. “And, of course, wash your hands for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer after touching anything in a public place or store.”

Yakas adds that if you are really concerned about COVID risks from resale clothes, you might want to set the clothes aside after your purchase and let them sit for a week. “Most viruses cannot live on surfaces or clothes for that long without a host organism,” she says.

Maria Morales, Director of International Expansion at Poshmark suggests that the best safety practices when purchasing used clothing include sellers washing their hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol content.

“The health and safety of our community, along with our employees, is our top priority and we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely,” adds Morales. “We encourage all of our community members to stay informed by following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.”

COVID-19 has changed peoples’ shopping habits

Diana Nguyen, the owner of Canadian luxury resale site, Lux Second Chance, tells Yahoo Lifestyle Canada that consumer awareness on sustainability and the benefits of buying secondhand on our environment and our wallets has changed the way people shop.

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Nguyen adds that she doesn’t believe there is a danger when it comes to purchasing used luxury items during the pandemic.

“Shopping online, regardless if it's a luxury resale or not, is very safe since there is less human contact than shopping in person since the virus can be contracted through human interaction,” says Nguyen. “I want to make sure that all Lux shoppers feel safe with their purchases, knowing that we’re all hyper-conscious these days. According to new research, there’s no evidence that links the spread of the virus through purchases made online.”

She suggests that by the time an online purchase is shipped and received, any form of COVID-19 would have died during the process and length of time.

“Further measures can be taken by the customer once the package arrives. The cardboard box that the item was shipped in can be disinfected quickly and easily,” shares Nguyen.

She says that Lux Second Chance staff has no physical contact with the consigner or customer since their company is 100 per cent online. “Within the company itself, we adhere to COVID-19 government guidelines,” adds Nguyen.

When it comes to insights into what trends will be surfacing this fall, Nguyen says you can bet good money that we can expect to see face masks on the runway.

“Although we haven’t seen high fashion masks on the runway just yet, luxury fashion brands have already jumped on the opportunity,” she says. “We at Lux Second Chance encourage everyone to be safe and considerate of others, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise style.”

Bauer also says that she’s already seeing “an explosion of really cool handmade masks” on Poshmark and in stores.

“I think mask fashion is going to be the unexpected trend of 2020 – think about all the different patterns and colour combinations that masks add to an outfit,” adds Bauer. “I also think that the trend of comfort is going to remain at the forefront of pandemic fashion. Matching loungewear sets, oversized dresses, sweaters and anything that feels comfortable to wear sitting at your desk at home is going to be super popular.”

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