If you take a walk through the Crescent City, you are likely to come across one of Suzy Rivera’s designs. Owner of SHOE, a boutique graphic design studio, Rivera’s clients include must-see museums, trendy boutiques and nonprofit organizations vital to the city.
Rivera’s success story as one of the 13 million women-owned businesses in the U.S.1 would not be possible without the influence and support of a network of women who helped shape her career, provide stability through tragedy and cheer her on into the future.
Rivera explained how her parents, originally from Guatemala, were early influences on her creativity. “They came from a Guatemala and figured out how to do things on their own when wanted something,” said Rivera. “My mom learned how to sew as a child because she needed clothes and while raising us, she had a lot of creativity in her projects—she was knitting, she was crocheting, she was sewing; we were always doing fun, hands-on projects.
“My mom also really encouraged the fact that I loved to draw and signed me up for lessons.”
Those years of lessons were well spent, as decades later Rivera embarked on a new endeavor at the helm of a creative venture. In 2004, Rivera tested the small business waters, opening her own graphic design studio.
“My late husband had a steady job, so this was my opportunity to try a new path,” shared Rivera.
Through talent and hard work, Rivera found early success, signing on clients and growing her shop. This trajectory is not uncommon for minority women-owned businesses, with average growth rates of 10%, twice as fast as growth rates for non-minority women-owned businesses.1
“At the time I was hungry and I wanted more work and to find the right people to grow with,” said Rivera. “We ended up having two designers that were working for us full-time, and my younger sister and I were partners, so we had a well-oiled machine.”
Rivera also looked to some influential business owners to help craft her business strategy. She referenced Winnie Hart, a business owner who took a chance on Rivera offering her first internship and Karen Adjmi, one of Rivera’s first clients who instilled the importance of relationships.
“I really looked up to Winnie and learned so much from her; and Karen taught me how you can do business and be friends,” Rivera shared about the concept that would be vital to her in years to come.
For Rivera, the future looked bright.
A supportive network
In 2016 Rivera experienced the unimaginable, losing her husband to a drunk driving hit-and-run accident. Rivera describes how she navigated that dark time and continues to persevere each day. “I was able to get back up for my son and myself because of the amazing support system and community of strong women in my life, from my mother, mother-in-law, sisters, sisters in-law and dear friends who are like my family. It was the women in my life that lifted me up when I needed it most and continue to be a driving force for me to constantly learn from,” said Rivera.
One woman who came into Rivera’s life during this period was Hancock Whitney private banker Rite Moisio.
Suzy Rivera and Hancock Whitney banker Rite Moisio forged a friendship during a trying time and continue to support each other personally and professionally.
“Suzy and I clicked at our first meeting, which was at an extremely difficult and emotional time for her,” shared Moisio. As a banker, Moisio recognized that Suzy needed a plan of attack to help address shifts in her liquidity, income and business needs. She worked with Suzy to put together her financial plan, walking through important decisions that would shape her financial future. Moisio shared that getting Suzy comfortable with investments and banking at a higher level was critical but attributed the success to forming a true friendship. “Suzy and I developed not only a very comfortable working relationship, but also a strong friendship, and continue to rely on one another outside of ‘office hours’ for life challenges while also embracing each other’s life successes,” said Moisio.
Moisio indicated that this relationship is not uncommon. “Banking is a very personal thing – and money is a big deal and it’s uncomfortable to discuss,” shared Moisio. “Women are much more apt to focus on the interpersonal dynamics, seeking a personal connection instead of a more transactional dynamic. Most of my female clients have become my friends – it becomes an actual relationship.”
“That instills so much trust for me that I have a connection with Rite and it’s not just strictly transactional or unemotional,” said Rivera. “I need that connection to have the trust and because of that personal relationship, Rite knows what’s at stake for me in terms of my life, so I trust her 100 percent with everything.”
Learning from experience
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Rivera and Moisio reflected on lessons learned in their personal and professional lives and shared this advice to help other women.
Rivera talked about the importance of introspection. “The tragedy really made me look at what I wanted to do. Did I still want to be working crazy hours or did I want to do quality work with people I love to work with?” said Rivera. “It is ok to have boundaries; and listen to your gut. We change every day, so make sure to take the time to evaluate if you are following the path you want to be on, not just blindly following a goal you set five years ago.” Rivera also shares the importance of finding groups and organizations you are passionate about, citing her involvement with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). “Their mission is to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking. MADD was there for my family and I, after the tragic drunk driving incident that took my husband’s life.”
“Do better. Be better,” shared Moisio, challenging the outdated approach to backseat roles for women. “Don’t let the imposter syndrome overtake your legitimate ability. There is always a place at the table for someone who is capable, competent, responsible or responsive no matter if you are male or female.”
Sources:1. 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report https://s1.q4cdn.com/692158879/files/doc_library/file/2019-state-of-women-owned-businesses-report.pdf