“When did the convenience of disposable plastic everything become more important than the sustainability of our planet?” asks an ardent Albert DiPadova. “We’ve spent the past 50 years making our lives convenient with single-serving plastics. They don’t benefit the world.“
Albert and his wife, Shannon DiPadova, are the owners of the Riviera Towel Company (RTC), which sells towels that have been handmade by artisans in small, family-owned factories in Turkey. Their retail store is on West Gutierrez Street, next to D’Angelo’s Bakery.
“We provide purposeful products that make a positive impact,” explains Albert. RTC donates five percent of net proceeds to organizations working to protect and heal the oceans, including ChannelKeeper, Coral Restoration Foundation, The Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Surfrider, National Marine Sanctuaries, and Wild Oceans.
“Peshtemals,” which is the official name for these Turkish towels, are incredibly versatile. “They can be used as a scarf, a wrap, or a throw,” he explains. “They’re stylish and pretty. They do so much.”
In addition to the store, RTC runs a thriving ecommerce business. “We’re building a brand and telling our mission that we’re trying to save the ocean,” says Albert. ““We’ve been embroidering and selling to corporations — swag that has purpose.”
Even over an early breakfast at Joe’s Café, Albert has a prepossessing personality, but I can’t make out his distinctive accent. “It’s a homogenized blend of New York and California accents,” he blurts out self-deprecatingly.
In the past, Albert owned a production company for seven years, and, with Shannon, also owned a retail/ecommerce business called Due Maternity for seven years as well. The latter sold to a Chicago company. “Every seven years, we seem to reinvent ourselves,” he admits, laughing. “Our businesses tend to follow our kids’ ages: a digital media company, so we could take photos of them, and maternity clothes, so we could dress them.”
Born on Long Island, where his father worked in New York’s garment industry, Albert studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating in 1991. “Photography is great as a hobby but tricky as a business,” he acknowledges. “Commercial photography is a commodity.”
He went to Florida to “thaw out” and spend time with his father, who was living in Key West and owned a landscaping business. His San Francisco-based sister convinced Albert to move to the Bay Area. “San Francisco is fun when you’re single,” he confesses.
In 1996, he got a job working for the ad agency DDB, producing commercials for clients like Clorox. In 1998, he started his own company, Production Machine, which compressed commercials so they could be streamed on the internet. “We really had it wired,” he says. “We were a machine. Compression was important for nobody had broadband then.”
During that time, Albert spent a lot of his free time surfing, and came up with the idea of installing about 130 cameras up and down the West Coast. He built a business called Surf Check, which provided critical weather data to surfers. Their motto was “Know Before You Go.”
“At first, nobody wanted to see the cameras on the beaches,” he explains. “They thought it was an invasion of privacy.” Checking the web for waves is now commonplace.
For years, Albert juggled both Production Machine and Surf Check, which taught him how to stream commercials even better. In 2002, Surf Check was acquired by Surfline, now the dominant surf forecasting company.
Albert met Shannon in 1998. She was a press agent for Broadway shows in San Francisco and the producer of “Best of Broadway.” Through Production Machine, he created an inflight video for United Airlines, and convinced Shannon to let him feature Phantom of the Opera’s run in San Francisco. They started dating in 2000 and married in 2001.
That’s about when the dot-com bubble burst, so Albert started winding down Production Machine. They decided to move to Santa Barbara and open Due Maternity, which they grew to five stores and healthy digital sales. After selling Due Maternity, they coasted for a few years and traveled. “I wanted to do something with the ocean and ocean conservancy,” says the surfer.
Albert is also a main force behind the creation of Sevilla Square, the unique commercial neighborhood where RTC is located, between State, Chapala, West Gutierrez streets, and the freeway. It’s home to more than 20 merchants and eateries, including Backyard Bowls, Lilly’s Taqueria, Yoga Soup, Chocolate Maya, and many others.
“The name gave us an identity,” he explains. “We’re using collaborative marketing dollars. Together we’re stronger. The sum is greater than its parts. We’re the last bastions of local shopping in Santa Barbara.”
When I comment on his career and his many business incarnations, he replies, “It hasn’t been a straight line. I like texture. It’s good to have a bit of adventure along the way.”
Albert DiPadova answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your greatest fear?
That I’m not doing enough to fight climate change. I am concerned for our kids’ future.
What is your motto?
Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. I know so many people that instantly go to the negative and tell you why it can’t be done. I love the people in my life that look past the obvious obstacles and figure out how it can be done. Don’t tell me no, tell me how to get to yes.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I wish I could have hung around with Leonardo da Vinci. He seemed pretty dialed in for his time. It would have been interesting to see what he’d do with a surfboard, ya know?
What do you like most about your job?
Traveling to Turkey and meeting with our small, family-owned factories. Also, the Riviera Towel has been funding marine agencies working to clean up our oceans, so it’s rewarding to see the progress and participate in the beach clean-ups.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Listening to Puccini on Sundays while cooking sauce and drinking and a nice Montepulciano. I should add that I don’t do this as often as I think I do. The kids don’t like opera and my wife is much better at cooking, but it makes me feel good all the same.
Who do you most admire?
Animation director Hayao Miyazaki. He’s the Walt Disney of Japan and won an Oscar for his Spirited Away. We took the kids to visit his studio in Japan because you don’t often get to know a living legend. He’s now 78 and working on a new movie due out next year.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Fireworks. As kids growing up on the East Coast, fireworks were a right of passage of sorts. Unfortunately, kids today are not exposed to enough danger, so I take the boys to the beach once in a while and blow things up. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this — prank call, prank call!
What is your current state of mind?
I feel incredibly lucky to have found a purpose in the big scheme of things. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is used to indicate the things that make one’s life worthwhile. My Ikigai is to have the Riviera Towel Company make a positive impact on our world.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Tenacity. I try to teach my kids if you get knocked down seven times, stand up eight.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Lack of urgency. If you’re going to do it, then let’s go. Come on people, the clock is ticking.
What do you most value in friends?
It’s nice when they show up with a good story and some beer.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Persistence. Lao Tzu noted that as a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
If you ever played me in tennis, you’d think I have Tourette’s syndrome: Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, and sometimes, Motherfucker! I read that people who curse are happier because it releases stress — seems to work for me.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Magic. It’s so fun to watch a good magician bend reality with a deck of cards. And I’ve noticed that sleight of hand and misdirection can also be applied to a number of practical parenting situations.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Physically speaking, cliff diving in Amalfi. Mentally, starting another company at 50. Both have striking similarities, like, if you miss you, don’t get to try again.
Where would you most like to live?
In the now. It’s so easy to slip into the past or envision the future, but neither are ever very accurate.
What is your most treasured possession?
My dog, but like most possessions, they tend to own you after a while. It’s nice to have what you need, but beyond that, what’s the point of possessing anything?
Who makes you laugh the most?
My tennis mates after a few beer rounds. We have a good time shit-talking each other’s shots, which are severely lacking any precision.
On what occasion do you lie?
All the time to myself, but sometimes it comes true and it helps me stay sane. Yes, there’s a god. Yes, humans will fix the environment. Yes, we can get Congress to pass sane gun laws. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.