By Rebecca Morales Draper

Vanessa “Van” Carbonell stands in front of a ring light in her dimly lit basement, surrounded by bags filled with colourful clothing and accessories – dresses, shirts, skirts, purses, wallets and more. Facing her phone, she holds up and sometimes even models the items for an audience watching her live on Facebook.

Friends and familiar names flood the comments to claim items for purchase. The chat moves fast. “Mine,” one woman writes. “Do you have this in black Van?” another asks. The show goes on for hours, often past midnight.

Live shopping has become increasingly popular on platforms such as Facebook and Poshmark, a social commerce site for new and second-hand clothing. Live selling has made creating a successful small business much more accessible, allowing entrepreneurs to display and describe their products while encouraging customers to buy them in real-time. Nordstrom and several other global brands have also hopped onto the trend.

One of the biggest selling points of live shopping is exclusivity and the idea that few people have access to the products being listed, said Francesca D’Angelo, a professor of fashion and the fashion management program co-ordinator at Humber College.

“If fashion is anything, it’s about being in the know, in the now. Live selling is immediate, it surpasses the exclusivity of even a fashion show. This is telling me you are going to see it now and you are going to have it now,” D’Angelo said. 

Live shopping first gained popularity in Asia, particularly in China, before the pandemic, according to Bain and Company, a management consulting firm. The pandemic “amplified” live selling because there were few other options, D’Angelo said. She believes that the spike came at a time when live shopping and other forms of e-commerce were heading in that direction anyway.

“Social media tells us, you can have anything at any point, which is true,” D’Angelo said. She called the instant gratification of live selling  the “next evolution” of the “click of a button” attitude of online shopping because not only is the item of clothing immediately yours, but it is going to be “exclusive and fashionable.” 

In March 2021, Nordstrom launched a live stream shopping channel to dive into new forms of e-commerce. Several other global brands, including Aldo, Kiehl’s, Nyx, Gucci, Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger and even KitKat, have also hopped onto the live streaming bandwagon, hosting shopping events that often feature appearances from well-known designers, makeup artists and celebrities. According to consulting firm McKinsey & Company, fashion and apparel is the most popular category of streaming, followed by beauty, fresh food and consumer electronics.

In the United States, consumer market research group Coresight Research expects that the live streaming market could eclipse $25 billion in 2023, more than quadruple what it was last year.

Like many during the first COVID-19 lockdowns, Carbonell was stuck at home and looking for ways to kill time. Searching for a dress to make herself feel better, she stumbled upon a woman selling clothes during a Facebook live stream.

“Then I said, ‘You know what, I actually love selling. Why not do this as a business, you know?’”, said the 38-year-old single mother of two who owns the Scarborough-based clothing brand E&K Modern Mode.

Intrigued by the success of the live stream, she reached out to the seller and asked for advice on getting started. Within a few days, she started buying a catalogue of clothing from carefully chosen sales items from big stores. 

Carbonell and her mother, Angel Carbonell, set up a space in her house dedicated to live streaming. Her mother helped transform her dining room into a boutique by moving the dining table and installing clothing racks. 

Her first stream was a success – she sold almost all the roughly 130 pieces of clothing she had collected – and she decided to pursue live selling as a side business.

Vanessa Carbonell details how she got started as a live seller in a phone call on Feb. 27, 2023.

Live selling was an obvious choice for Carbonell because it allowed her to fulfill her passion for selling clothes while working full-time as a medical lab technician. “I just love talking in front of the camera,” she said. 

Now almost two years into live selling, Carbonell has managed to attract up to 1,100 followers on Facebook and hundreds of loyal customers. She streams twice a week and the sessions can last for nearly seven hours, sometimes until 2 a.m. Her products are affordable, with dresses and clothing sets ranging from $15 to $35. She declined to say how much money she makes from her business.

Carbonell largely credits her mother for the success of her company. Angel Carbonell usually helps with marketing and promoting the business on social media. During streams, she can often be seen organizing clothes and handing items to her daughter to display.

Her target audience consists mainly of Filipino-Canadian women who are in search of casual office or church attire. The majority of her customers are within Ontario, but she also has viewers scattered across Canada and even some in the United States. They have become familiar with Carbonell, often greeting her mother and children when they make appearances during her streams. She chose to use Facebook as her business platform because it is popular among her Filipino-Canadian community.

Buyer etiquette is essential to the smooth functioning of the business, Carbonell said. There are rules for purchasing clothing during live streams, given the limited quantity of each style. Viewers comment “mine” in the live stream chat with the code to claim an item. An invoice is later sent to the buyer and the item is shipped once payment is made. Carbonell also allows order pick-ups from her house and now does walk-in shopping once or twice a week in her basement.

Josie Consunji, a loyal customer of E&K Modern Mode, has been buying from Carbonell since September 2021 and appreciates being able to shop while cuddled in bed.

“I love shopping with Van, her products are classy and the quality is good compared to others, and her products do not look cheap,” she said.

Carbonell’s passion for selling started at a young age. In elementary school in the Philippines, she would sell bracelets and bags of peanuts to her peers. 

One day, Carbonell hopes to open up her own boutique. For now, she continues to pursue her dream one live stream at a time.