Leslie Valdivia ’14 majored in public relations. After graduating, she worked at a variety of nonprofits, government organizations and PR agencies, where she used skills learned at Sacramento State to run marketing campaigns and pitch countless stories to the news media.
Which makes it slightly ironic that her biggest project, Vive Cosmetics, has landed her in publications such as Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue – all without a single pitch, paid influencer or major ad purchase.
It might speak to the power and resonance of Vive. Valdivia and her friend Joanna Rosario founded the company in 2017 to bridge what they say was a galling disconnect between the cosmetics industry and Latinx women, who collectively are among the country’s largest purchasers of cosmetics.
In Vive, Valdivia and Rosario set out to build a company that drew from and reflected the experiences of Latinx people. In contrast to the stark, black-and-white packaging standard in the industry, Vive incorporates vibrant colors representing Latinx art, culture and food. Names of makeup include “Lupita,” “Mija,” “Spanglish” and “Selena Forever.”
The company hires Latinx models with diverse skin tones and backgrounds, and makes an effort to work with and hire other Latinx people or organizations. That contrasts, Valdivia said, with an industry that typically features “token Latinas” with light skin and tone-deaf advertising campaigns that clearly did not include Latinas in decision-making.
“There’s so much diversity that exists in the Latinx experience that I felt was not represented,” she said. “I wanted to create a brand that represents the diversity within our own community.”
Raised in Lodi by parents who were Mexican immigrants, Valdivia was the first in her family to attend college, arriving at Sacramento State in 2009. She majored in biology and then nursing before changing course to public relations, which she felt better matched her talents and personality.
Valdivia was a persistent student who never gave up on an assignment, said journalism professor Timi Poeppelman. One such assignment involved live reporting on Twitter, and at first Valdivia struggled. But, Poeppelman said, Valdivia continued to work at it until she was so skilled she was teaching it to other students.
“She went, maybe in a year’s time, from it being a huge struggle to being the expert on it,” Poeppelman said. “As she’s done all these amazing things after graduating, I’m not surprised, because she keeps chipping away at it and owning it and making it her own. It’s really cool to see.”
Outside of the classroom, Valdivia kept busy. She was a member of the Latina support-network club Mujeres Ayudando la Raza and the Sigma Pi Alpha sorority. She worked as a student employee in the Orientation, Services for Students with Disabilities office and University Communications, among other places.
“Working on campus, going to school and participating in extracurricular activities made my experience a really positive one, and I think that’s what led me to solidify connections in the community,” she said. “Sac State is really engrained in the community, and I think working here and having experiences here led me to having some great opportunities after I left.”
Valdivia held a variety of jobs after graduation, but her work with a local nonprofit as a financial assistant for low-income, Spanish-speaking families had the biggest impact. Meeting with struggling families who were nevertheless starting their own businesses put her own privilege – having a higher-education degree – into perspective and inspired her to do something greater with her skills.
She and Rosario came up with the concept for a Latinx-focused cosmetics company and applied for a small business loan through the nonprofit. Vive was born a few months later.
“The reason I got into communications was thinking about, how do I use myself and my language to create some kind of change or bring people knowledge for them to create change?” Valdivia said. “How can we uplift our community, and especially the community I belong to, in a positive light? And if it’s not there, how do I create that change or contribute to it?”
In December, the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce honored Valdivia with its Rising Estrella award, given annually to a young Latina professional making an impact in the Sacramento region.
Cathy Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber, said the award recognizes not just Valdivia’s entrepreneurship but also her work in the community, such as the Youth Latinas Inspire conference she organizes annually at Sacramento State to discuss issues important to Latinx women.
“I see her as someone who’s going to be successful in business because she understands when you do good, you’ll do well,” Rodriguez said. “She is always going to have that part of her that knows giving back to the community, being a positive role model for others, and showing that there’s different paths in life to reach success is just as important as the bottom line.”
Sacramento State helped build for Valdivia, who recently quit her full-time job to focus solely on Vive, a foundation for the success that has followed. The University’s public-relations program and extracurricular activities provided practical skills and connections. It also exposed her to a diverse set of people and viewpoints while helping her become comfortable with her own identity.
“Finding community and relating to other people really helped me move forward, embracing who I was,” she said. “The brand I created is about embracing myself as a Latina, and all the diverse experiences we have.”