Home CultureBlack-Owned The SW3AT Wellness Founder is Expanding Into the Cannabis Industry

The SW3AT Wellness Founder is Expanding Into the Cannabis Industry

by Stephanie Spear
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Hudson County entrepreneur Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez is many things. She’s an Afro-Latina wife, a mother, a business owner, a fitness enthusiast, a veteran, a student, and a neighbor. Hoboken and Jersey City neighbors also know her as the founder of SW3AT Wellness, with two locations offering infrared sauna and other wellness treatments. Alyza’s newest venture is as the founder of The Other Side, a cannabis retail shop and consumption lounge in Jersey City located at 36 Congress Street. The Hoboken Girl got the chance to chat with Alyza about her journey as an entrepreneur in Hudson County and to learn more about The Other Side. Read on to learn more about Alyza and her journey into the cannabis industry. 

About Alyza

Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez has been in Hudson County since she was a young adult. Along with her wife, Mia, she opened SW3AT Studios in 2015 as a fitness apparel brand. While the brand started in 2015, the first storefront offering sauna services opened in Jersey City in 2018. “I always knew I wanted to start a business, so I stuck with the world I knew which was fitness,” Alyza said.

At the time, Alyza was working as a personal trainer as well as being on active duty in the US Navy. The infrared sauna services filled a niche in wellness offerings in the area, which helped drive the studio’s success.  In 2021, they opened a second location in Hoboken and found that during COVID, the studio’s operations and offerings were popular for people trying to stay healthy and safe. “All of our studio suites are private, and we have always had high standards for cleanliness and cleaning practices,” Alyza said. “Covid made all of that even more appealing to clients.”

In designing the space for the studios, Alyza wanted a space that would be welcoming to anyone who walked in. “Some fitness spaces are extremely masculine, like a barbell gym,” she said. “Others are very feminine and soft, and I wanted to create a space that wasn’t particularly one way or the other so that everyone would feel comfortable.” Alyza is a member of the LGBTQ community and particularly wanted the welcoming nature of the space to be conveyed at every opportunity. “Everything is really deliberate,” she said. “We want to be inclusive in design, our branding, the language that we use, everything.”

sw3at sauna hoboken

Over time, Alyza expanded SW3AT’s offerings based on what she saw as gaps in the market in Hudson County, and she set up the business model to be franchised. “I noticed that people in Hudson County wanted certain services that just weren’t here,” she said. “Things like a salt cave, or portable sauna blankets, were really focused now on wellness more holistically than just specific services.”

See more: Where to Buy Recreational Marijuana Locally

Alyza is now medically retired from the US Navy as a First Class Petty Officer and is working on her Doctorate in Science from NJCU in Leadership, Management and Policy. Her scholarship focuses on Black women leaders in the security sector. Alyza also holds a Masters degree from John Jay College and her undergraduate degree is also from NJCU. Alyza and her wife Mia, a BNR Hobokenite, have a young daughter and enjoy going out to eat in Hoboken and Jersey City. In particular, Alyza likes The Hive because of its innovative approach to serving coffee and integrating a kids play space as well as Black Rail Coffee. “The coffee there is good but the people who work there are so nice, it makes it taste better, I swear!” she said. Some of her favorite restaurants in Jersey City are Harry’s Daughter, 902 Brewing, and Left Bank Burger.

Getting to The Other Side

Arriving at the idea to open up a cannabis dispensary and lounge was the result of a long journey for Alyza. Then-gubernatorial-candidate Phil Murphy talked about legalizing cannabis and making a pathway for businesses to be formed around that market in 2016. While Alyza had always wanted to own her own business, many people in her community were facing legal trouble because of their involvement with cannabis, so it was hard for her to take the rhetoric seriously. Alyza served more time overseas with the Navy, and between the pandemic, the birth of her daughter, and a career-ending injury, she started looking at the cannabis industry again in early 2022.

sw3at

“I’ve always been a bit unconventional,” she said. “I was the type of sailor who was always pushing boundaries. I’m not afraid to speak up.”

Alyza saw that the new cannabis laws, passed in 2021, presented an incredible opportunity, especially for minority business owners. “This industry has the potential to be huge. It’s like being at the very end of Prohibition and seeing what’s possible. Since so many Black and brown communities have been harmed by this product, being able to take advantage of the business opportunity is incredible.”

Another appealing aspect was the idea of using cannabis as a wellness product. Alyza had suffered an injury during her final tour with the Navy and turned to cannabis to help her manage the physical and emotional injuries she suffered. “I was on all these pills that were prescribed to me by the V.A. and having all kinds of side effects,” she said. “It was cannabis that really helped my symptoms without the side effects. I realized that all veterans need access to this product in a way that won’t harm or punish them within the military.” Both current and former military members can lose access to benefits and other services if they are caught using cannabis under many of the current laws. “Hudson County is home, and JC is the most diverse city in the nation,” Alyza said. “There is no better place for me to put something down that is going to really amplify the voices of those that have been underserved.”

38 Congress Street - The Other Side

Alyza thought that not only was the new cannabis industry a great business opportunity, it was also an incredible chance for advocacy. “For me to be successful means I can help others be successful in this space as well as point out flaws in the system so it improves in the future,” she said. “So many things need to be put together for Black and brown people to succeed. I’ve been fortunate, I have had more education. I need to help others develop leadership skills.”

To get her plan in action, Alyza sought out a strategic business partner. Since she had the entrepreneurial experience, particularly in Hudson County, she wanted to work with someone who offered something she didn’t have. She ended up with a partner who has a background in the cannabis industry. They worked to come up with the required paperwork for the application. “I locked myself in the house for three days to write the application,” Alyza said. “It’s incredibly technical and most people hire that work out to consultants but I did it myself.” Alyza points to the incredible cost and complexity of the initial application process as another hurdle that she wants to make easier for those who come after her.

The team’s persistence paid off, and their application was approved unanimously by the Jersey City Cannabis Control Board in July 2022. At this time, the application for the retail space and consumption space has been broken into two tracks, as the state is still perfecting rules for on-site consumption. The team will still need to get approval from the state to operate, but that two-tiered coordination is required of all regulated cannabis enterprises.

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While Alyza and her team await the other necessary approvals, they are working to change the conversation around cannabis. “There is a huge social aspect of this topic,” Alyza said. “We want to present this information in a way that opens up some conversations. We want to get the brand out, have conversations about what’s happening. That means getting on podcasts, going to conferences, and talking about Black and brown business ownership.”

What to Expect

Alyza has a clear vision for what the space will look like and what guests’ experiences will be once The Other Side opens for business. The location at 36 Congress Street is one block away from the Ninth Street Light Rail station and has two stories. “The first floor is a dispensary area with a small space for a lounge,” she said. “The entire second floor is the lounge.” The lounge is on track to be the first on-site consumption lounge in Hudson County and among the first in New Jersey.

Read more: This Jersey City Woman Wants to Revolutionize the Candle Industry

The design and aesthetic of the space will help further the conversations that Alyza says are necessary to change the common attitudes toward cannabis. “The space is going to be light and airy and filled with greenery,” she said. “It will be very inviting, not the typical back-alley vibe from many other places affiliated with cannabis.” She wants anyone and everyone to feel welcome and comfortable in the space. “When you walk in, you’ll see Jersey City. You’ll see all kinds of people enjoying the products and the space,” she said. “We want people to see it for themselves. People are going to come and see how beautiful it is. They will want to come and hang out even if they’re not a smoker. We will have TVs for sports, coworking space, and other amenities. There will be no club vibes.”

Alyza views The Other Side as both a natural extension of her wellness business and as the culmination of many things in her life. “Want people to walk in and immediately feel great energy, it can shift the vibe,” she said. “That’s what wellness is about – putting yourself in a better headspace. If we can curate that space just when people walk in, it doesn’t matter what they consume.”

“To me, The Other Side is so many things,” said Alyza. “I’m on the other side of my military service. We’re on the other side of the legalization of cannabis. It represents so many things in my life that are good. It all came together.”

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