As the bright, mid-morning light streams through the Lively Kid’s storefront windows, owner Kayti Mata thoughtfully puts the finishing touches to her picture-perfect store. Surrounded by her hand-embellished furniture and snap-shots of her kids and their elementary school peers grinning down from the walls, Mata is completely in her element in the store of her dreams, located in the heart of her hometown.
A third-generation Santa Cruzian, Mata always wanted to raise her two young children here, where they could have the same hometown experience she adored growing up.
“There are so many roots here for our family… Santa Cruz was [always] the main option for us,” Mata said. “I’ve always wanted to open a kid’s shop.”
So opening her store, Lively Kids, in downtown Santa Cruz in May of this year, fulfilled her childhood dream. Her life “has really revolved around kids… clothing and fashion. So it really just aligned perfectly, I get to melt them together.”
Owned and operated by Mata, the Lively Kids boutique specializes in bespoke baby and kid’s apparel, sizes zero through fourteen, in a variety of unique, vintage-inspired styles. Mata prides herself on procuring comfortable, durable, striking clothes that highlight kids’ individual styles, as she believes that feeling confident in their clothing is crucial for the development of children’s self-confidence.
Mata believes that clothes provide a safe way for individuals to “get really creative [exploring] who you want to be.” Stylistic experimentation is a great way to give kids an opportunity to express themselves and “feel accepted for who they are.” She loves seeing “kids try things on and leave in their outfits because they feel great… you can see a light in their eyes when they love what they’re wearing.”
As a mother herself, Mata designed Lively Kids with both kids and families in mind. The store’s clean, open floor plan is stroller accessible and intentionally minimalistic, creating a non-overwhelming space for children and families to shop. However, she has been sure to include fun embellishments that appeal to kids’ vivacious spirits, like her animal print rugs, denim-patched curtains, and photographs of local kids that young customers often recognize from school.
Bayan Alshawabkeh, a local mother and regular patron, said that she “and other moms love the shop. I feel at home when I go there.”
Alshawabkeh particularly loves the colors, designs, quality and unique pieces found in Lively Kids, and said that while she used to shop around for clothes and gifts for her kids she now goes directly to her shop whenever she need any outfits for her kids.
“It’s a good thing that it opened,” Alshawabkeh said.
Lively Kids is the only locally-owned, kids-apparel-only store in downtown Santa Cruz, according to Mata. She has observed that “because there’s no representation of kid-specific shops down here, kids come in and… they get so excited that this is their time, this is their space.”
Mata strives for Lively Kids to “be a fun, easygoing” environment, “letting parents have a space where they feel comfortable with their kids” and giving kids a welcoming place “to come in and feel like they have plenty of options.”
Open 11am-5pm, Lively Kid’s doors are wide open every week from Thursday to Tuesday, eager to welcome kids and families and ready to outfit any kid with durable, quirky clothes tailored to their individual needs and styles. After all, as Mata says, if kids “feel good, they will do good.”
By Elise Cline