Has Covid made used clothes an amazing business?

When the pandemic hit this spring, Fashionphile founder Sarah Davis was terrified about what it would do to her business.

She had started the company, which specialises in online sales of used designer handbags, as a seller on eBay in 1997. Now it’s a standalone site, handling $200m (£148m) worth of transactions in 2019 and growing some 50%.

The problem, she says, wasn’t that health or economic concerns were turning shoppers away. Rather, the pandemic meant the sellers the site relies on were postponing trips to the post office.

“We were selling like crazy,” she says. “We were literally selling everything off the shelves and getting no product in.”

The stay-at-home habits brought on by the pandemic have devastated demand for clothing and accessories stores, pushing sales down 25% or more and driving many firms towards collapse. But used fashion websites say they’re seeing a different story.

Ms Davis expects Fashionphile revenue to grow 20% this year, despite the supply hiccups.

UK-based Depop – one of the biggest resale platforms, which allows buyers and sellers to connect directly, taking a cut of each sale – says growth has remained solid this year, after hitting a peak during the lockdowns when business doubled, while Poshmark, a similar site, has said sales this spring were up 50%.

School cleaner Stormee James is one of the newcomers. The 31-year-old, who lives in Ohio, posted her first item to sell on Poshmark in May.

Since then, she estimates she has shipped off one or two packages a week, making about $1,700 (£1,265) from everything from bathing suits to her boyfriend’s t-shirts.

“At first it was kind of a boredom thing,” she says. “It started to get into, ‘Am I going to need this for money?’ though thankfully I’ve kept my job.”

Ms James has turned some of her Poshmark earnings over to her sister and boyfriend, in thanks for the cast-offs they contributed. She’s also spent some $500 back on the site, tempted by purchases for herself.

“It’s so hard not to,” she says, adding that she’s bought some Christmas presents there too.

“I like that I can prolong the use of clothes, instead of them just getting thrown away,” she says. And, she adds, “You can get really good prices.”

Even before the pandemic, resale platforms were rising in popularity, as fashionistas embraced unique, any-decade looks, minimalism prompted wardrobe purges and concerns grew about the apparel industry’s environmental impact.

As the pandemic boosts online activity, while setting off an economic crisis, used fashion sites are poised to benefit, says Alexis DeSalva Kahler, senior analyst of retail and e-commerce at market research firm Mintel.

Last year, Mintel surveys found roughly 66% of UK shoppers and more than 70% in the US had bought or were open to buying second-hand items.

People worried about shopping second hand tended to cite concerns about cleanliness, Ms Kahler says.

But interest in the practice actually increased during the pandemic.

In June, about 20% of consumers surveyed in the US told Mintel that Covid had made them more interested in buying and selling second-hand clothing.

Ms Kahler thinks wider concerns about catching the virus from surfaces like boxes and textiles have subsided since the initial panic this spring, as we learn more about how it is transmitted.

She compares the interest in second hand clothes to the growth of fast fashion and flash discount sites like Gilt Groupe after the 2007-08 economic crash.

“We’re a little bit wiser and more aware of the impact,” she says. “Consumers still want to save but there’s a different way to do it.”

In a June report for San Francisco’s ThredUp, one of the leading resale sites, research firm GlobalData predicted the online market for used clothing and accessories could hit $36bn by 2024, up from $7bn in 2019,

The potential growth has spooked traditional retailers, who have responded by investing in the upstarts, launching their own clothing recycling programmes and working with the challengers to sell used clothes in some of their stores.

Selfridges in the UK, for example, hosted a pop-up shop with Depop last year. In the US, upmarket department store Neiman Marcus took a stake in Fashionphile, while ThredUp has worked with department sore chains JC Penney and Macy’s to sell used goods in some stores.

“The retailers are going, ‘Oh my god, it’s a thing,'” says Lee Peterson, executive vice president at Ohio-based retail consultancy WD Partners. “They’re of a mindset right now, ‘Hey, let’s fail fast. Let’s try everything.'”

Some companies, including Nordstrom and JC Penney, have since ended their experiments.

While they declined to discuss the experience, analysts said the decisions signal the firms’ internal challenges during the pandemic, rather than waning interest in second-hand items.

Indeed, in May Walmart revealed plans to collaborate on sales of used goods with ThredUp, while European e-commerce site Zalando launched a second-hand section of its site in September.

“Right now, for some retailers that are non-essential, they have to really shift their priorities,” says Ms Kahler of Mintel. “But there’s a reason that everybody from specialty retailers to department stores is getting into the business. There’s definitely demand. It’s not something that’s going away.”

In recent months both Poshmark and ThredUp took their first steps towards a public share sale in the US. Sneaker resale site StockX has hinted at similar plans. The offerings are expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the companies and put their worth in the eyes of the market on a par with traditional retailers.

But Forrester Research retail analyst Sucharita Kodali says the listing flurry shouldn’t be mistaken for proof that used clothes are the future of the fashion industry.

“The market is doing really well and people go public when the timing is right, when they think there’s an appetite to raise money,” she says. “I don’t think that it suggests there’s some kind of amazing business in secondary stuff.”

The RealReal, one of the few companies in the sector whose financial reports are open to the public, was valued at more than $2bn last year when its shares debuted on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

But shares in the luxury resale site have halved since their peak, while revenue at the firm has slipped about 5% this year, despite growth in other areas, like buyer numbers.

Ms Kodali says technology has made it easier for buyers and sellers to connect, increasing the potential market of second-hand shops and making it easier to hunt down the perfect item.

But the cost of listing and shipping one-of-a-kind – often inexpensive – items also makes for a challenging business model, she warns.

“[Thrift shops] have been around for ages. They’re not going away but I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re on fire,” she says. “Technology enables you to direct that experience a little bit better but you can’t be foolish about the costs.”

Covid Wales: Aneurin Bevan health board halts non-urgent care

An under-pressure health board says it has been forced to postpone all non-urgent care as Covid cases increase.

The Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said it was halting outpatient appointments and non-urgent planned surgery from Monday.

The weekly infection rates across the five south Wales counties in the health board are averaging 534 cases for every 100,000 people.

The health board also has the highest number of patients with Covid, at 586.

The board covers Newport, Caerphilly, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire.

Newport has the third highest weekly infection rate for Covid-19 in Wales, at 634.9 cases for every 100,000.

Both Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent both just tip over the 600 cases per 100,000 mark.

Public Health Wales recorded eight deaths of people with Covid on Friday, the highest for the day in Wales.

In a statement health board officials said: “This decision has not been made lightly, however, the increasing transmission of Covid-19 within our communities, together with the usual winter demand on our emergency care is having a significant impact on our ability to provide normal services.”

From Monday, it said it would be making the following changes to services:

The health board stressed that cancer services and clinically urgent patients will continue to be seen, and cancer surgery and operations for clinically urgent conditions will continue.

Radiology and endoscopy services will continue unchanged, as will heart condition services.

Officials said the Covid-19 programme that is now underway will also continue.

“Our child and adult mental health services will not be affected by these changes,” they added.

The announcement follows a warning from First Minister Mark Drakeford that stricter restrictions will be introduced if Covid cases continue to rise.

“Our NHS will not be able to cope if we continue to see this level of coronavirus-related admissions in the coming weeks, on top of the normal winter pressures,” he said.

Prince William and Kate make red carpet debut with royal children

The Duke of Cambridge paid tribute to Dame Barbara Windsor during a trip with his family to watch a special pantomime put on to thank key workers for their efforts during the pandemic.

Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis watched a performance of Pantoland at the London Palladium with their parents in the royal box.

In a speech before the show, the duke called Dame Barbara “a legend”.

It was the Cambridges’ first red carpet engagement as a family of five.

Their visit followed the news that the actress, best known for her roles in EastEnders and the Carry On films, had died aged 83.

When the Cambridges first arrived at the Palladium, George, seven, Charlotte, five, and two-year-old Louis stopped briefly to watch actors dressed as elves entertaining the guests on the red carpet.

Before the show, Matt Ridsdale, executive director of National Lottery operator Camelot, which has supported the pantomime, introduced Prince William and quipped: “As this is panto, I’m very conscious of who’s behind me.”

The duke said: “Before I go on, I want to pause and pay tribute to a true national treasure, Dame Barbara Windsor, who so sadly passed away last night.

“She was a giant of the entertainment world, and of course a legend on pantomime stages across the country, including here at the London Palladium.

“And I know we’ll all miss her hugely.”

The duke said it was a “very special performance” because of the key workers in the audience.

“You include community workers, volunteers, teachers, NHS staff, representatives from the emergency services and military, researchers working on the vaccine, people helping the homeless, those manning vital call centres, and staff from a wide range of frontline charities – to name but a few,” he said.

“You have given your absolute all this year and made remarkable sacrifices.”

Earlier this week the duke and duchess travelled around Great Britain on the royal train to thank key workers for their efforts during the pandemic.

Tavistock puberty blocker study published after nine years

All but one child treated for gender dysphoria with puberty-blocking drugs at a leading NHS clinic also received cross-sex hormones, a study has shown.

The Tavistock and Portman Trust has argued the treatments are not linked.

The High Court ruled last week that under-16s are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to be treated with puberty-blocking drugs.

The trust said the study’s findings were not accepted by a peer-reviewed journal until the day of the judgement.

These findings are from a study run by the Tavistock’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) – England’s only NHS specialist gender clinic for children – and research partners at University College London Hospitals.

The study began in 2011 and enrolled 44 children aged between 12 and 15 over the following three years. At the time, only those aged 16 and over were eligible for puberty blockers in the UK.

When BBC Newsnight covered the study and its preliminary findings last year it highlighted how previous research suggested all young people who took blockers went on to take cross-sex hormones – the next stage towards transitioning to the opposite gender.

The Tavistock’s newly published findings appear to confirm this, with 43 out of 44 participants – or 98% – choosing to start treatment with cross-sex hormones.

Earlier this month, the High Court ruled that children under-16 were unlikely to be able to give informed consent to treatment with puberty blockers.

The relationship between blockers and subsequent treatment with cross-sex hormones was a core feature of the case.

Lawyers representing the claimants said there was “a very high likelihood” children who start taking hormone blockers will later begin taking cross-sex hormones, leading potentially to infertility and impaired sexual function.

The Tavistock argued puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones were entirely separate stages of treatment and one does not automatically lead to the other.

The judges rejected that argument, saying “in our view this does not reflect the reality”.

“The evidence shows that the vast majority of children who take [puberty blockers] move on to take cross-sex hormones,” and that these are part of “one clinical pathway”.

The study findings potentially lend further support to that assertion.

The Tavistock disputes this, saying that as those in this study had persistent and consistent gender dysphoria throughout their childhood, it is not surprising they would seek to continue treatment after 16.

It argues that the fact not all chose to do so shows this course of treatment is not an inevitability.

Furthermore, the data was requested by the High Court during the hearing, but the Tavistock did not provide it.

The data, the trust argued, would be published in a peer-reviewed journal, but comments were being reviewed by the study’s principal investigator, Prof Russell Viner – the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

However, the Tavistock published the data the day after the High Court handed down its judgement, and not in a peer-reviewed journal.

The Tavistock told the BBC that the paper was not accepted for publication until the day of the judgement and it was put into preprint that day.

The published study showed that treatment with the blocker brought about no change in psychological function.

This differs from Dutch findings “which reported improved psychological function,” upon which many gender clinics have based their treatment.

Preliminary findings which showed that after a year on blockers, there was a significant increase in those answering the statement: “I deliberately try to hurt or kill myself”, were not replicated across the duration of the study.

The study had no control group – with children who did not take puberty blockers – to enable the researchers to compare results with.

So, it is hard to infer cause and effect or draw conclusions as to the potential harms or benefits of this treatment.

The study also measured the impact of puberty blocking drugs on children’s height and bone density.

The researchers found that suppressing puberty “reduced growth that was dependent on puberty hormones”.

Height growth continued, “but more slowly than for their peers”.

The Tavistock Trust said “the paper has now been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal and will be published soon”.

All new referrals for puberty blockers are currently paused because of the High Court’s ruling, and an NHS review into gender identity services for children and young people is currently under way.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can find support and advice via BBC Action Line.

You can watch Newsnight on BBC Two weekdays at 22:30 or on iPlayer, subscribe to the programme on YouTube and follow it on Twitter.

IICSA: Child abuse inquiry hears from 648th and final witness

An inquiry into claims of child sexual abuse in England and Wales has finished its final public hearing.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard evidence from 648 witnesses over four years.

It is investigating claims against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions – as well as people in the public eye.

The inquiry’s final report will be published in 2022.

IICSA was set up in July 2014 after hundreds of people came forward to say Jimmy Savile had abused them as children.

But it was initially beset with controversy, with three chairwomen resigning and lawyers quitting their posts.

In 2016 current chairwoman, Prof Alexis Jay, who led the Rotherham abuse inquiry, was appointed to the role.

The IICSA has held 323 days of public hearings and disclosed 24,565 documents totalling more than 590,000 pages.

The hearings have led to 14 reports so far – with a further five due to be published next year -containing 53 recommendations to better protect children from sexual abuse.

Speaking at the end of the public hearings, Prof Jay thanked the witnesses who had contributed to the inquiry’s 15 investigations.

“A vast amount of work has gone into making these hearings possible over the last four years, including earlier this year when we became the UK’s first public inquiry to hear evidence in a virtual setting following the outbreak of Covid-19.

“While this is a significant milestone for the inquiry, we still have a busy programme of work to complete in the coming year.

“This will cover research and investigation reports, which will all contribute to our final report.”

The inquiry’s public hearings consisted of 15 separate investigations.

The inquiry is investigating:

How the child sexual abuse inquiry works

Last month, a report from the inquiry concluded the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales had failed to show compassion towards victims of abuse within the Church.

In October, the inquiry heard that police investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse against the former Labour MP, Lord Janner, amounted to a “cover-up”.

Covid: School moves to remote learning until January

A secondary school in North Ayrshire has moved to remote learning after repeated Covid cases.

Pupils at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats will not return to classrooms until January.

From Monday until the end of term on 23 December teaching will be conducted remotely.

The Roman Catholic high school has more than 1,000 pupils from towns across North Ayrshire.

A statement from the council said: “Due to a further increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases at the school and following discussions between North Ayrshire Council, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Health Protection Team and Scottish government, a decision has been taken to introduce home learning through to the end of this term

“Pupils will return to the school campus on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, following the festive break.

“In the meantime, pupils will be expected to continue with their lessons remotely.”

Derbyshire boy, 15, charged with terrorism offences

A 15-year-old boy has been charged with two terrorism offences.

The boy, from South Derbyshire, appeared via video-link at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

He is charged with dissemination of a terrorist publication and collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

West Yorkshire Police said he had previously been arrested under the Terrorism Act in September.

The force said the teenager was arrested following an investigation by counter-terrorism police and Derbyshire Police.

He has been bailed to appear at the same court on 22 January.

A 16-year-old boy from south-east London was also arrested as part of the investigation.

He has been bailed pending further inquiries.

Odeon cinema owner warns its running out of cash

AMC Entertainment Holdings, the world’s largest movie theatre operator, has secured $100m (£76m) in emergency funds – but warned the money will only help it through another month.

The firm, owner of the UK’s Odeon Cinemas, said attendance has dropped 92% in the US and 86% internationally.

It is burning through $125m a month as concerns about Covid-19 shut some cinemas and keep audiences away.

Even after reopening, it said the growth of streaming posed a challenge.

Warner Bros this month said it planned to release all of its 2021 films online on the same day they are released to cinemas. They will air on the HBO Max streaming service, with which it shares a parent company.

Disney has also said it plans to push more of its films to its Disney+ streaming service.

AMC said those decisions may prompt other studios to adopt similar strategies.

“These practices have significantly impacted our revenues and are expected to continue to have an adverse impact on our business and results of operations going forward,” it said in a US regulatory filing that accompanied the funding announcement.

AMC said to remain “viable” through 2021 it would need to raise at least $750m – and possibly more.

“Our current cash burn rates are not sustainable,” it said.

The $100m emergency loan comes from Mudrick Capital Management, a US-based investor focused on distressed debt. The company already holds some of AMC’s roughly $5.5bn in debt, $100m of which Mudrick will convert into company shares as part of the deal.

At the end of last year, AMC operated more than 1,000 locations globally, including 636 in the US and 112 in the UK.

Covid: Genes hold clues to why some people get severely ill

Why some people with coronavirus have no symptoms and others get extremely ill is one of the pandemic’s biggest puzzles.

A study in Nature of more than 2,200 intensive care patients has identified specific genes that may hold the answer.

They make some people more susceptible to severe Covid-19 symptoms.

The findings shed light on where the immune system goes wrong, which could help identify new treatments.

These will continue to be needed even though vaccines are being developed, says Prof Kenneth Baillie, a consultant in medicine at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, who led the Genomicc project.

“Vaccines should drastically decrease the numbers of covid cases, but it’s likely doctors will still be treating the disease in intensive care for a number of years around the world, so there is an urgent need to find new treatments.”

Scientists looked at the DNA of patients in more than 200 intensive care units in UK hospitals.

They scanned each person’s genes, which contain the instructions for every biological process – including how to fight a virus.

Their genomes were then compared with the DNA of healthy people to pinpoint any genetic differences, and a number were found – the first in a gene called TYK2.

“It is part of the system that makes your immune cells more angry, and more inflammatory,” explained Prof Baillie.

But if the gene is faulty, this immune response can go into overdrive, putting patients at risk of damaging lung inflammation.

A class of anti-inflammatory drugs already used for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis targets this biological mechanism, including a drug called Baricitinib.

“It makes it a very plausible candidate for a new treatment,” Prof Baillie said. “But of course, we need to do large-scale clinical trials in order to find out if that’s true or not.”

Genetic differences were also found in a gene called DPP9, which plays a role in inflammation, and in a gene called OAS, which helps to stop the virus from making copies of itself.

Variations in a gene called IFNAR2 were also identified in the intensive care patients.

IFNAR2 is linked to a potent anti-viral molecule called interferon, which helps to kick-start the immune system as soon as an infection is detected.

It’s thought that producing too little interferon can give the virus an early advantage, allowing it to quickly replicate, leading to more severe disease.

Two other recent studies published in the journal Science have also implicated interferon in Covid cases, through both genetic mutations and an autoimmune disorder that affects its production.

Prof Jean-Laurent Casanova, who carried out the research, from The Rockefeller University in New York, said: “[Interferon] accounted for nearly 15% of the critical Covid-19 cases internationally enrolled in our cohort.”

Interferon can be given as a treatment, but a World Health Organisation clinical trial concluded that it did not help very sick patients. However, Prof Casanova said the timing was important.

He explained: “I hope that if given in the first two, three, four days of infection, the interferon would work, because it essentially would provide the molecule that the [patient] does not produce by himself or by herself.”

Dr Vanessa Sancho-Shimizu, a geneticist from Imperial College London, said that the genetic discoveries were providing an unprecedented insight into the biology of the disease.

“It really is an example of precision medicine, where we can actually identify the moment at which things have gone awry in that individual,” she told BBC News.

“The findings from these genetic studies will help us identify particular molecular pathways that could be targets for therapeutic intervention,” she said.

But the genome still holds some mysteries.

The Genomicc study – and several others – has revealed a cluster of genes on chromosome 3 strongly linked to severe symptoms. However, the biology underpinning this is not yet understood.

More patients will now be asked to take part in this research.

Prof Baillie said: “We need everyone, but we’re particularly keen to recruit people from minority ethnic groups who are over-represented in the critically ill population.”

He added: “There’s still a very urgent need to find new treatments for this disease and we have to make the right choices about which treatments to try next, because we don’t have time to make mistakes.”

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