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Breast Cancer Survivor Keeps Local Business Strong

Smith and Vandiver launched in 1979 and thrives in Watsonville, as does its longtime leader, who beat cancer twice.

Looking at Alida Stevens, you would never guess that she is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Seated across the table in a meeting room at the headquarters in Watsonville is a woman who possesses a sense of calmness and positive energy that is remarkable.

It is that same spirit and energy that has played a large part in keeping S&V strong even during these tough economic times.

Stevens was there when S&V started in 1979 and remained president until she stepped down from the position about four years ago. Jeff Slaboden is the current S&V President while Stevens is the Vice President of Creative Services and Strategies. Since its birth, S&V stood out from competitors because of their green initiative. Today, many companies have jumped on the bandwagon but S&V has been on the green train for over three decades.

Before starting S&V, Stevens owned a small shop in Capitola called Cornucopia. The shop sold bath and skincare products that were safe and natural. When S&V was started, that same concept was brought into the wholesale market.

“Our goal was to get safe and natural products into the hands of as many women as we could,” Stevens said.

S&V produces all kinds of skincare and bath products including everything from bath soaps and salts to body creams and their aromatherapies. It was those same aromatherapies that made chemotherapy bearable during Stevens’ battle with breast cancer. Stevens’ strong will also played a played a part in her recovery.

“I wanted to keep my identity of being Alida and not my disease,” Stevens said.

When S&V was started, it was decided that they would remain in the Santa Cruz area and Watsonville was chosen as the location for their business. It was also convenient that Watsonville was near Aptos, where Stevens lives, and close to Cornucopia in Capitola.

Stevens believes in the concept that “you should work to live as opposed to live to work.” “Being in Santa Cruz is pretty wonderful,” Stevens said.

There are also many other positive to being located in Watsonville. Stevens mentions that that California is expensive but that Watsonville has a good labor pool. At S&V, there are many entry-level positions therefore providing jobs for the people of Watsonville. The city has proved to also be very close and tightknit. For instance, eight years ago when a third warehouse was built, the S&V’s landlord and the city worked together to change the boundaries in order to have their warehouse dreams come true. S&V and the city of Watsonville have history.

“It wasn’t like we were an outsider coming in and trying to change the rules,” Stevens said.

S&V strives to provide products that are affordable and safe. They use natural ingredients and many of their products are biodegradable. Most of their product packaging is recyclable. For example, S&V’s Dino Bubbles is packaged in a colorful, squishy package reminiscent of a children’s juice pack. If the package happens to end up in a landfill, it is designed to take up as little space as possible unlike the standard tubes and bottles out on the market.

Aside for the products and packaging, S&V also tries to be as “green” as possible in the workplace. They recycle lots of water—any leftover water is used to water the landscape. Skylights and temperature controllers have been installed. S&V also uses electronic forklifts and the only light running in the warehouse is in the bathroom. They even convert their own cardboard to make boxes.

“If we need 512 boxes, we make 512,” Stevens said.

Nothing goes to waste.

S&V has always been on the leading edge of natural. Stevens explains that in the 90s, being natural was something that was luxurious but today, lots of people are choosing to go “green” for their own health and that of the environment.

S&V also strives to give back by working with local women’s shelters and , a children’s cancer support group. Outside of S&V, Stevens is also a strong supporter of Army of Women, an organization that is working to study and find the causes of breast cancer and the ways to prevent it.

It is obvious that Stevens’ own personal experiences have played a large part in S&V’s image. Stevens has been able to take a scary, traumatic experience and turn it into a positive. Along with S&V’s work with various organizations, they still stay true to their goal in creating natural, environmentally safe products at affordable prices. S&V products are available online and at Safeway, Walmart, Albertsons and specialty stores nationwide.

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