Meet Alida Stevens - The Inspiration Behind the Brand
Though S&V products are known around the world, the company comes from humble beginnings.
The Early Years
It all started in 1970 when Alida Stevens opened her first retail store in Santa Cruz, California Cornucopia. The store sold bath, body, hair and home fragrance products by the ounce, scoop and slice.
After expanding to multiple stores, in 1978, Alida (then Smith) joined forces with Lynn Vandiver to create Smith & Vandiver with plans to take the “buy the ounce” concept from Alida’s retail stores to Hawaii. When that fell through, the duo took the bulk concept, aptly named Back to Basics, to gift shows and sold the products to other retailers throughout the US.
Soon they had sales representatives and broker groups throughout the country. Realizing not all stores wanted their customers pumping, scooping or slicing their own products, the first collection of packaged products was introduced in 1981.
“As the company grew, it became apparent that we needed to control our own manufacturing, and we moved to the first of five buildings in Watsonville. Watsonville was so welcoming,” Alida said. Plus it was a perfect fit with its agricultural-industrial area and a population that was in need of jobs.
As the company grew as a manufacturer and wholesaler, Lynn was realizing their business was not the retailing venture she had envisioned. In 1985, Alida bought out Lynn’s portion of the business and focused on expanding the brands.
During a gift show in 1984, Alida met Jeff Slaboden. As their personal relationship grew, so did their professional lives. The two knew that with her background in cosmetic chemistry and his in manufacturing, it could be a great business match as well. Jeff formally joined the company in 1986 and their combined energy lead to rapid growth. Jeff brought engineering, technology and packaging skills that created an ever expanding, state-of-the art manufacturing facility. “We used to laugh that I could design and formulate the first 3 product samples, and it was then Jeff’s job to make the next million pieces,” says Alida.
Healing & Growth with Botanicals and Aromatherapaes
The company continued to grow (physically) and flourish with Alida at the helm and Jeff Slaboden alongside. In 1989 Alida was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to take a back seat to focus on her health. Then the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, with the epicenter just 6 miles away, took its toll right in the peak of holiday shipping. The couple did what they needed to survive and ultimately thrive.
Jeff started the morning after the quake, one shovel at a time, digging out and rebuilding the business. Alida continued on her path to wellness and learned aromatherapy was a key in helping maintain a better quality of life during treatment. Wanting to share this knowledge with others, she started developing what eventually became The Botanicals – one of the first wellness brands based on aromatherapy. “I started thinking that everyone needs to reduce stress, balance their energy or find a little help getting a good night’s sleep, and with aromatherapy you can do this without the possible side effects from medications.” Alida said. Sold in upscale perfumeries and department stores, the Botanicals used essential oils to make each product more effective or to add a dual purpose, i.e. moisturize and reduce stress.
In 1991, the company developed another aromatherapy-wellness brand, this time for the mass market. Called Aromatherapaes the collection was focused and simplified. “One of the company’s touchstones has always been to make quality products available to as many users as possible, and this market was the pathway.” Twenty-five plus years later, this and Good Clean Fun for children are the two main brands still in the Smith & Vandiver portfolio. The product is now certified by the NPA to their natural standard insuring no petro chemicals, GMOs or other unhealthful ingredients are in the product or used for processing.
In 1998, S&V introduced Fizzmos, our first effervescent product. Over the years, the company has been the leader in this technology and still one of the few who make bath fizzies or bath bombs with non-GMO citric acid. Good Clean Fun Dino Fizz eggs are on the verge of hitting their second generation of happy kids, and we hope it will become the “Cracker Jacks” of the bath world.
Today, the company remains a strong supporter of our local economy and community. Branded samples from tradeshows and showrooms are donated to women’s and homeless shelters. Locally, branded overruns go to Second Harvest, Grey Bears, Meals on Wheels and shelters. Products are donated to disaster relief groups, military service care packages, local Senior Centers and Toys for Tots. Partnering with See Turtles, the company rescues an endangered or threatened turtle egg with each purchase of their Turtle Rescue Fizzie. The company also supports Save Our Shores, art programs for MODD (More Opportunities for the Developmentally Disabled) and Claraty Arts, all the while providing jobs and careers for over 450 people.