For Business

Founder story: Livie & Luca

How Mitzi Rivas turned a gift from a friend into a business built on joy.

Image of woman next to Live Luca shoes on display

While pushing her son in a stroller, Mitzi Rivas let her mind wonder, and she found herself examining her life’s path and what success meant to her. Driven by the belief that every day presents an opportunity to tap into truth and purpose, Mitzi realized that she needed to try something new.

With an insatiable desire to bring people together to find new ways to grow, she committed to finding a new version of success. Mitzi found inspiration during a brief encounter with a friend that gave her a pair of children’s shoes. She turned this inspiration into a footwear business that supports the well-being of kids and celebrates the wonder of childhood.

Stepping into unchartered waters

Mitzi knows the value of working hard. Growing up as a first-generation Latina, determination and perseverance were standard forces in her upbringing. She tapped into these forces throughout her life to build an inner strength that powered her drive to succeed.

This inner strength really came to life during her education. At UC Berkeley, Mitzi crafted her own degree and graduated with the highest honors. She went on to enroll in the clinical psychology doctoral program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Throughout her collegiate career, she leaned into her desire to learn and her passion for understanding people’s life journeys and honed her craft of being a healing presence in all her endeavors.

When she realized that clinical psychology wasn’t bringing her closer to her purpose, Mitzi explored a variety of paths to find her professional calling. From a professional makeup artist to a women’s health advocate to a stint at AT&T, she tried to find her calling. These experiences helped her realize that the conventional path to success wasn’t for her.

“I knew at a young age that my independent spirit would take me on an uncharted journey, so I learned to look inward and let my heart help guide my decisions,” says Mitzi. “For me, success means bringing people together to learn, heal, and find a life filled with purpose.”

A spark of inspiration

Like any entrepreneurial-minded person, Mitzi had one of those a-ha moments that sparked her passion to create her own business. Her a-ha moment happened when her friend Laura gave her a pair of colorful, handmade shoes designed like little red foxes for her then-toddler, Luca. She was so impressed with the quality and style of the little shoes that she immediately saw an opportunity.

“My son and I loved this gift, and when he wore them to playdates or even playing around the neighborhood, people would stop to comment on the shoes,” Mitzi says. “I quickly realized that working with artisans and children to create shoes that were durable and vibrant could be my calling in business—an opportunity to chart my own path doing something good.”

And just like that, Livie & Luca was born. Mitzi took the leap and jumped into her new business endeavor, naming the business after Laura’s daughter and her own son. Through Livie & Luca, she’s found a way to both build connections with customers through handmade shoes, and keep the magic of childhood alive.

The joys of co-creating

As adults, we sometimes forget those wonderfully free years of childhood. But Mitzi has found a way to tap into that youthful innocence and joy by involving the children who wear Livie & Luca shoes in her business. To Mitzi, the best way to ensure that her artisans are creating shoes that children will love is to co-create with them. Yes, she and her team actually bring children into the decision-making process and welcome their input on the shoe designs she sells.

According to Mitzi, “It really matters to me to get input from the kids who wear our shoes and pull them into the creation process. You can’t make up the ideas in the minds of children when their worldview is filled with joy. Partnering with them to design our products not only brings happiness to me and my team, but also holds us accountable to the children we design for.”

Co-creation with customers is more than just a step in the process for Livie & Luca. Partnering with kids is smart business on two fronts. First, the free-thinking that kids bring to the table ensures that Livie & Luca artisans are building shoes that kids actually want to wear and that support healthy foot development. Second, partnering with children creates a space for them to share their creative expression and vocalize what really matters to them.

Image of a girl wearing Livie Luca sandals

“To me, co-creating with children is filled with unbridled inspiration that you really can’t find elsewhere,” notes Mitzi. “I believe that their input and the ideas that we come up with together are better than anything we could build by ourselves on a whiteboard.”

In a way, Mitzi’s co-creation strategy is not only keeping the joy of childhood alive, but also helping to plant the seeds for the type of collaborative leadership she cherishes with younger generations.

Growing into a leader

That morning stroll with her son was a formative moment for Mitzi. It crystalized her thoughts about what it meant to step into the unknown. While she resolved years prior to push herself and those around her to pursue roads less, she realized she wasn’t walking the walk.

As a founder, Mitzi knew that success hinged on modeling her version of leadership to rally her teams around Livie & Luca’s mission. She realized that in order to be successful, a style of top-down decision-making with hints of micro-management wouldn’t do.

So she wrote her own leadership playbook. Her style is to bring many voices to the decision-making table so that multiple perspectives, ideas, and solutions can surface quickly. This leadership lens allows for an innovative, inclusive, and trusting environment to flourish.

“Everybody’s responsible for creating their own leadership style, and mine is one of bringing voices together because there’s no way one person has all the answers,” she says.

Mitzi now consistently uses her revamped leadership “playbook” to help her artisans pursue their unique paths to success.

A scrappy start

Not only has Livie & Luca become an outlet for Mitzi and her team of artisans to live their truth and purpose in business, it’s also been a means to affect real change in the world. When a customer purchases a pair of shoes from Livie & Luca, they’re getting a product that was built around a commitment to sustainability.

In the early years, as she was honing her shoe-making craft, Mitzi noticed that there were scraps of leather on the workroom floor. She started gathering the scraps and piecing them together to create truly unique shoe designs. This intentional “scrappy” approach to design, once again, set her on a path to try something different.

This type of intentionality manifests in two questions that she and her artisans consistently ponder today: How might we design a product that could be passed from one child to the next? How can we make a product that appeals to our customers so much that they won’t want to throw it away?

To help answer these questions, Livie & Luca brings in its customers’ voice through interactive workshops, where customers engage directly with the design team. These workshops help her team learn what customers truly need, and sometimes simple innovations are identified that can make a large impact. These inclusive workshops have led to products that are unique and long-lasting.

Image of girl wearing Livie Luca shoes

“From shoe liners to regrind rubber used to create confetti-looking soles to the boxes customers open, we find ways to recycle while staying true to our desire to infuse our products with joy and fun in a sustainable way,” Mitzi explains.

Across her entire company, Mitzi has created a culture of intentionality: an intentional process of designing shoes that are sustainable, an intentional commitment to truth and purpose, and an intentional desire to step onto the uncertain path to find a deeper meaning of success.

Bringing joy to work

As a woman of color, Mitzi understands that she might face challenges as she grows her business. With an unwavering commitment to bringing joy to her work and an empowering leadership philosophy that challenges established paradigms, Mitzi is finding a path to her version of success.

“I want people to be their own version of joy, and as a woman of color that means breaking out of a business paradigm that wasn’t designed for me,” she says. “I want to share my story to encourage other Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs to share their own stories. The old playbook isn’t working and we need more minority women—and women in general—to step up to help redefine the playbook.”

Using Buy with Prime to delight customers

One way Mitzi is redefining the playbook is the addition of Buy with Prime to her ecommerce site. She feels that it offers an innovative way to level the playing field for online brands on and off

To her, Buy with Prime gives her a new way to delight customers on her site. “With the click of a button, Buy with Prime makes it easy to show our love and consideration for our customers and the time they spend on our site,” she says.

Buy with Prime is helping Mitzi chart a new path to build her ecommerce brand driven by a mission to build a better world for children. Finding your version of success can be a challenging journey, but finding your true purpose can be a great guide for you to take the leap and try something a little different.

Check out Livie & Luca’s Buy with Prime collection page.

And make sure to read the other inspiring stories of women entrepreneurs in the spotlight for Women’s History Month, including Elena Castaneda and Afshan Abbas.

Kelby Johnson