Cosmetics and community: Leslie Valdivia’s makeup brand celebrates Latinx culture

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.

Leslie Valdivia, smiling, in front of a studio backdrop and holding products from her makeup company Vive Cosmetics
Leslie Valdivia co-founded Vive Cosmetics, a makeup brand for Latinx individuals, in 2017. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

“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.”

Alumnus and former State Hornet reporter wins Pulitzer Prize

Russ Buettner ’90 (Journalism), along with fellow New York Times investigative reporters David Barstow and Susanne Craig, spent 18 months digging into the complex finances of the family of President Donald Trump.

Russ Buettner“We didn’t do anything else during that period of time,” he said. “There were at least two times when we thought we might be finished and we were going to make one more round of contacts, and each of those times when we thought we were finished those additional reporting contacts we made yielded more results that required more process and analysis and then circling back to what we had done before.”

That hard work paid off last week when Buettner and his colleagues were awarded journalism’s most prestigious honor: the Pulitzer Prize. The award, given in the Explanatory Journalism category, was one of two for the Times this year and a first for Buettner. It also marks the second year in a row a Sacramento State alum has received a Pulitzer: Hornet graduates Derek Moore, Jim Sweeney and Martin Espinoza earned the award last year for their coverage of the 2017 Sonoma County wildfires in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

While a student at Sacramento State, Buettner spent two semesters as a reporter for the State Hornet student newspaper. He joined the Times in 2006 after working on investigations teams at the New York Daily News and New York Newsday, and was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles highlighting abuse, neglect and deadly mistakes in New York’s system of caring for developmentally disabled people.

Below, Buettner discusses his Pulitzer-winning work and his time at Sacramento State (interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity).

What was your reaction upon learning you had received the Pulitzer Prize?

It’s a very exciting moment. I’ve been doing this a long time and have gotten close before. But it’s kind of a pure excitement that you share with your colleagues. You feel good about what you’ve accomplished. You feel very good about the work that you did, that kind of reinforcement and recognition from that particular body. This means a lot in journalism.

Pulitzer Day - Speech
Russ Buettner addresses the New York Times newsroom following the announcement that he and his colleagues had received a Pulitzer Prize. (Photo courtesy Russ Buettner).

Why did you feel this story was important to report?

When somebody is president of the United States, getting to the truth of their lives and what they’ve done that led them there is always going to be important. Some of the ways that Donald Trump is very different than other presidents is that most often in modern times, by the time they get to the point when they’re running for president, most of their life has been thoroughly vetted before. People have gone through it, looked at all the relationships they’ve had, connected the dots that need to be connected, and there’s kind of an extensive public record on all that. Donald Trump had been a public figure for decades, obviously, but never had been taken seriously in that kind of way before. So it was worthwhile to go through that and test, basically, his origin story that he’s always told about himself, that he told during the campaign as to why his ideas should matter and why he was the best person to be president.

How do you feel Sacramento State prepared you for a career in journalism?

I owe almost everything to Sac State. It was a place I could afford to go and a place that welcomed me, so those were two things that I’ll be forever grateful for. It was place that taught me both new ways to think critically, which is everything in my work, and to believe in myself that I was capable of doing that at a fairly high level. I learned to write when I was there. There was a professor there named Jeanne Abbott who worked closely with the Hornet, and when I wrote something, a longer thing to try and get it in the paper, Jeanne would spend hours with me giving me feedback, helping me to massage it into something that was publishable at what seemed like a professional level. Writing is a particular kind of skill. There are some people I’m sure who can just get it and nail it first time they try. I wasn’t like that. I had ideas and talent but I needed to do a lot of work to perfect it for a large audience. All the journalism staff and the English Department at Sac State really moved me along in that direction.

What lessons from Sacramento State do you use most today?

No matter where you’re from, and I don’t mean Sacramento, I just mean from no matter what the economics or cultural background is of your family, you can find a path to get to a place that is mentally satisfying and will challenge you throughout your life. You can feel like when you see your friends going off to huge prestigious universities, that it must be true that your fate is determined when you’re 17 years old and you’re as good as you’re ever going to be when your 17 years old. Sac State shows you that that’s not true. It’s just all a big journey and you just keep learning and keep digging, and you’ll find the life for you that is the best use of your skills and talents and the most rewarding. The lesson for me about Sac State is that it’s a big door opener to the world.

What advice do you have for current Sacramento State journalism students?

Dream big and never quit learning. Realize you got there and you had some skills and some talent and you learned about things you wanted to do. You made a lot of progress. But you are literally not going to stop making progress if you keep working hard on that same pace for your entire life. I know that’s true in journalism. That’s one of the best things about it, you’re just constantly learning and being exposed and being challenged in new ways. And I think that’s true in most fields today. The world is constantly changing underneath our feet and that’s a wonderful thing and wonderful process, and just embrace it and go forth.

Journalism helps Melissa Dahl embrace awkwardness — and then write the book on it

Melissa Dahl ’07 (Journalism) didn’t necessarily go into journalism to break out of her childhood shyness, but when she’s working on stories such as what it’s like spending a week talking with strangers on the New York City subway – well, it certainly can’t hurt.

“I was a really shy kid,” Dahl said. “I recently read an essay about how having to go up and talk to people could make a difference. I read that and was like, I would love to be able to do that, because I was such a shy kid.”

Mission accomplished. Today, Dahl is the senior health and science editor at The Cut, a New York magazine section that focuses on human behavior and psychology. She’s also the author of the book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, which explores moments just like those that occur when a stranger approaches you on the subway. The book was published in February 2018, and Dahl returned to Sacramento State in the fall to speak about it.

Prior to working at New York, Dahl was a health writer and editor with MSNBC. She also worked at the Sacramento Bee and the Lodi News-Sentinel while attending Sacramento State, and was a member of the State Hornet student newspaper staff.

“At the Sacramento Bee, another writer gave me some advice: Find your niche. Find something you do better than anyone else,” Dahl said, adding that her focus at both The State Hornet and the Bee was feature writing. “I always was drawn toward stories about behavior, about why people do the things they do.”

When she became interested the concept of awkwardness, however, she was surprised to discover that very little research had actually been done on the topic.

“What I’ve always loved about this job is this idea that most questions I have about human behavior, I can just look in the literature and find stacks of papers on it,” Dahl said. “But these questions about, why do these things make me cringe, why does this make me feel awkward, what does that mean, what does that say about me, what does it say about other people and how other people are perceiving me – I could find satisfying answers to those.”

Dahl spent two years researching for the book, including meeting with neuroscientists in Germany. The “theory of awkwardness” referenced in the title, Dahl says, is that so-called awkward moments “illuminate the fact that there’s a difference between the way you think you’re presenting yourself to the world and the way other people are actually seeing you.”

MASS_ Melissa Dahl 10.9.18-7
Sacramento State alum and New York magazine editor Melissa Dahl speaks on campus about her book, Cringeworthy, in October 2018. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Although it’s not unusual to hear someone – particularly a teenager or young adult – self-effacingly refer to themselves as “awkward,” Dahl’s book focuses on awkwardness not as a characteristic but instead as a feeling.

Consider Michael Scott, the bumbling boss on The Office portrayed by Steve Carell. Despite his constant inappropriate comments or actions, Dahl says, Scott never feels weird or self-conscious about what he has said or done. The awkwardness is how those words and actions make the people around him feel.

“I think we use the word as a stand-in for self-consciousness or social anxiety,” Dahl said. “I feel awkward all the time, but I don’t think I’m a particularly awkward person. I hope not.”

After moving frequently as a child, Dahl’s family settled in Sacramento when she was in high school. When it came time to apply for college, she chose Sacramento State in part because she wanted to remain in the area and in part because of the strength of its journalism program.

Joining The State Hornet her freshman year, she says, “changed everything for me.” It allowed her to put into practice all of the concepts she was learning in the classroom. It provided a collaborative environment in which she could grow and gain new skills. And it’s where she met people she still considers some of her closest friends.

The State Hornet, combined with her work at the Bee and the News-Sentinel, also provided her with the practical experience needed to succeed as a professional journalist.

“When I graduated, I already felt like, ‘I know how to do this,’ ” Dahl said. “I was 22 and I had worked in two newsrooms at that point. Right out of the gate, I felt like, ‘Oh, I got this.’”

For Sacramento State students aspiring to be journalists, joining The State Hornet is “mandatory,” Dahl said, and a way to not only learn about what you want to do but to actually start doing it.

“This is the place to make mistakes and try different things and hopefully, by the time you’ve graduated, you’ll have some experience under your belt.”