EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Amaury Vidales goes live weekly on her Facebook page, Amaury Accesorios, to show prospective shoppers what new things she has to sell — but it’s not just another virtual boutique.
Between the spontaneous bidding wars, music and banter with customers, Vidales creates a shopping experience that is a mix of buzzing zocalos found in the centers of Mexican cities, bustling open-air tianguis where shoppers can find all manner of items and an artisan handmade crafts fair.
She tries to include a new surprise item each week. Recently, it was a mini lavadero for makeup brushes. “Everybody in Mexico has [a lavadero] in [their] house,” Vidales said. The small handmade replica comes complete with a mini soap and it’s own carrying case.
Vidales, 47, represents a new kind of entrepreneur, someone who’s built a following online for experiences that have become scarce during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the process, she’s created an online space for community members to come together in an isolated world.
“It's kind of like an escape from home and escape from your job. It's like a fun place to hang out,” said her daughter, Regina Olono Vidales. “Most people just show up and they stay the full four hours.”
Her mother is also part of a growing wave of Latino small business owners in Minnesota and across the country. Latino-owned businesses grew by 34% compared to non-Latinos at just 1% over the past decade, according to a recent study by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative.
That report also found Latina business owners had been especially hurt by the pandemic, making Vidales’ success that much more intriguing.
Frida Kahlo an inspiration
Vidales reaches clients through her Facebook page, negotiates sales and follow-up calls through messaging applications and even sources her suppliers through Instagram accounts. All payments are made virtually.
She launched in 2019, before the pandemic, as a way to help pay her daughter’s college tuition and other family expenses. She said when she started, there were only a few other women like her selling goods through their social media accounts. The market exploded last year as COVID-19 kept people away from public gathering spaces.
Olono Vidales helps her mother with the weekly live events, along with her 12-year-old brother and Vidales’ husband, both named Javier.
On a recent broadcast, Vidales dressed in a shirt reminiscent of one worn by Salma Hayek in the movie “Frida.” She freshened her lipstick and turned on her ring light and smartphone as Latino pop music set the mood in the background.
As the four-hour event rolled on, the energy turned up. Vidales greeted people coming into the live chat by name while showing items for sale accompanied by their item number. Sometimes, bidding wars ensue, Olono Vidales said.
Vidales, who grew up in Sonora, Mexico, had long wanted to become a business owner. The virtual boutique has helped make her less shy and a polished public speaker, her daughter said.
Frida Kahlo’s importance to the boutique transcends fashion. The painter is prominent in many of the images. Women, especially Mexican women, look up to Kahlo as someone who achieved so much and never gave up despite her suffering.
“We've noticed that it's not just in Mexico, and it's not just in the Latinx community that Frida is this big symbol. It's international,” Olono Vidales said. “We've seen Turkish TV shows that have her image on there. We see white people obsessed with her.”
While the online shops and Facebook Live events began before COVID-19, the pandemic has made business owners creative in reaching clients.
“We find that maybe they’re not working off of a home computer, but they’re doing lots of things on their phone,” said Yolanda Cotterall, who works with the Twin Cities-based Latino Economic Development Center. “They’re communicating, they’re getting the word out, with their phones. It’s pretty amazing.”
Entrepreneurial as a survival skill
Vidales said her weekly events gross an average of $5,000. When her husband lost one of his two jobs because of the pandemic, the business helped meet the family’s financial needs.
While she enjoys the work and it’s helped her grow as a person, “handling being a mom, being a wife and the duties of the home has been really hard to juggle,” she said as her daughter translated. “Y estoy muy contenta porque conocido muchas personas y es muy difícil, muy estresante a veces, pero me gusta.”
It also requires being able to withstand the haters, she added. “La primera vez que [una] amiga me animó a hacer live. Yo le dije "no puedo, no puedo hablar a una cámara." Pero cuando ya me ponga la cámara, la verdad, lo disfruto.”
Many Latino people are entrepreneurial as a survival skill, but support to help Latino business owners survive the pandemic and thrive are still needed, said Marlene Orozco, the Stanford study’s lead research analyst.
Before the pandemic, she said, Latino business owners were far more likely to have a business loan denied than their white counterparts in similar circumstances. The pandemic exacerbated the challenges and brought them to the surface.
Overall, though, many of the business owners who participated in the Stanford survey said they felt hopeful about the future of their businesses.
The future of Amaury’s Accessories looks bright. She plans to create a website where people can shop outside of her live social media events. She’s also hoping to diversify her customer base and expand her reach.
Vidales already sells to people across the country. But what they would really like is to bring Amaury’s Accessorios to a storefront in Minneapolis.
“Entonces, siento que las mujeres somos tan fuertes. no sabemos que somos tan fuertes hasta que no se nos presenta una mala situación,” Vidales said.
Added her daughter: “It’s kind of a testament to not only being a strong woman, but also accepting that you can go through these hard life experiences and still come out at the top.”