We first met the lovely Steph Gabriel at an one-of-a-kind conference in Sydney… yes you guessed it, at Rad Livin! In between sipping free ciders and groovin to Ziggy Alberts, we managed to exchange business cards (yes we have a business card, very professional we know! 😉 ) and also got to know all about Steph’s current passion project, OceanZen. Our stars truly aligned meeting Steph, as what she’s doing is 100% what we live for at Uninhibited. But what is OceanZen you ask? OceanZen is a Sunshine Coast based swimwear label that is focused on marine conservation/education.
But this is NO ORDINARY SWIMWEAR!
OceanZen bikini’s fabric is made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles from the ocean which is then manufactured into high quality lycra! We know, pretty freakin cool! To top it off, all orders are packed in recyclable pillow boxes instead of plastic, making OceanZen completely sustainable.
We new we had to reach out to Steph to get the deets on how she pulled this off, so below we have our interview with the lady herself! Steph’s responses are vulnerable and down to earth, giving you guys the truth behind starting up a business, even if that means sharing the not so pretty parts. We have done this not to scare you, but to giving you a far more realistic depiction of OceanZen, making it all the more empowering!
How old were you when you began your OceanZen journey?
When I left Australia I was 20, no idea where to go, what to do, who I was, what I wanted. All I knew was that I had this urge to go. So I did. I packed up and left.
I was travelling the world for about 3 years, frolicking on islands and wandering across countries, and I landed myself a job in the Caribbean where I stayed for a year. This job was what changed me and essentially what has lead me to where I am today.
I was working with wild stingrays on a snorkel guide sailing boat. My role was to swim down, lure the stingrays up with squid, hold them and allow the tourists to touch their wings. It was the most surreal and craziest experience and I learned alot about the marine world from being in it for 8 hours a day! I think that is what sparked this passion for protection and marine conservation. I came home about a year after finishing up on the island, enrolled myself into uni and studied a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. From this point I knew that this field was my destiny in someway or another, but my passion wasn’t research and being indoors bores me. The best place to learn about the marine world is in it!
What made you create OceanZen/what was the inspiration behind it?
So I started to brain storm ways I could help in my own way. I had discovered this fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets and it completely blew my mind! Discarded waste is one of many huge problems that oceans face and from this point on the idea of OceanZen only felt natural. I ultimately wanted to combine both of my passions, (marine conservation and swimwear) together in my own unique way.
What is the meaning/idea behind the name OceanZen?
Travelling and of course the ocean have always inspired me, both equally exciting my soul. However it was when I was travelling Thailand the name OceanZen came to me. I had just spent the day snorkeling and was sitting on the deck of a yacht drifting along the coast, admiring the beautiful silky flat ocean surface. I felt somewhat zen-ish at the time and the name came to me as if it jumped right out of the ocean. It could not be more true to what OceanZen bikini is today! 🙂
What was your biggest hurdle when starting up your own business?
There were constant hurdles, and still is today.
I feel like most people don’t know where to start and that’s exactly where I was at, especially in fashion. Where to manufacture, how, all of the costs involved. It is such a time consuming process especially during the sampling stage. Manufacturing is still one of my biggest challenges today.
The biggest hurdle for me was starting a business while studying full-time at Uni.
I had discovered this sustainable fabric but it unfortunately came at a higher cost than what I could afford. I had to let go of the idea to launch with this fabric and hope that one day I could afford it. Alot of people come up with really amazing business ideas but don’t always act due to their own personal doubts, but the rewarding feeling of following your dream and passion defiantly outweighs the fear.
For me, I really wanted to make a stand in some way for marine conservation. It was that passion that pushed me to my creative reach to come up with an idea. If you truly believe in something and knock out all of the doubtful thoughts, your passion will be the only thing you want to put all of your energy into. To answer the question, I think the biggest hurdle of all is just taking that first step to turn your passion into a reality.
Tell us more about this recycled material!! How did you pull that off!?
The fabric is really amazing and completely mind blowing that it is made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean. It is collected in the oceans around the USA, taken to their processing factory to be cleaned and shredded, then re-created into a yarn. That yarn is then shipped to Italy to be turned into a high quality italian lycra. This is such a huge goal for me and OceanZen. This fabric has been something I have wanted for two years, it felt like christmas when i finally got it! 🙂 The fabric is shockingly super soft and just awesome that it is sustainable.
When not frolicking with whales in your gorgeous OceanZen bikinis, how do you spend your time/make a living?
Haha that is a great question! I’ve been lucky enough to make a living working on a whale watching boat for the last 4 years which pretty much was the cash that I got to kick start OceanZen. But these days OceanZen takes up most of my time which is awesome. I also do marine conservation education shows for a company here on the coast a couple of times a week at different schools which is awesome!
We see you have just launched a fresh swimwear line (congrats!!) What did you learn from your last launch that you will be bringing to this one?
Thank you 🙂 So much heart and soul has gone into this new collection, especially with the sustainable fabric. There are always constant battles with getting any business off the ground, and with every new collection I launch there are always going to be new ropes to learn. Challenges with manufacturing are constant, costly and exhausting but always worth it when I see the final product. With every new collection I launch the styles and prints get fresher and even more beautiful.
From your experiences with OceanZen, what advice would you give to those wanting to start up a bikini line or fashion label?
Find a point of difference. There are alot of swimwear labels that are popping up these days. Figure out a way where you can have your brand represent your passions in a way that is different to everyone else. That way if your brand both represents and feeds your passion, you will love going to work everyday 🙂 Try and think outside the box and get creative. Do lots of research on where to manufacture. An ethical factory was something that was really important to me. I didn’t want to go to China or use any cheap sweat shops. The place that I use is a family owned business, they choose their own hours (which is why it can take a long time haha!)
For me OceanZen is my heart and soul, it’s an obsession with the ocean and the wonderland of the marine world. It’s a passion and an urge to defend it and protect it.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future of OceanZen?
Currently I am actually working towards a goal of donating a percentage of profits to a new conservation project of my choice every year, but there are lots of logistics that go into this.
There is alot happening this year with OceanZen, it’s growing and its beginning to reach internationally! There are just so many different roads it can take! I would ideally love to expand on the brand and not just be about awesome bikinis! But I think I want to stick to the roots for now and just stay true to the OceanZen lifestyle.
We hope Steph’s journey so far inspires you to pursue whatever passion or dream you are currently holding you back, knowing that it is possible for anyone. Our favourite piece of advice of Steph’s would have to be:
“If you truly believe in something and knock out all of the doubtful thoughts, your passion will be the only thing you want to put all of your energy into.”
It really brings home the idea that to truly put your heart and soul into anything, the passion has to be there. Also if you live on the Sunshine Coast, look out for Ocean Zen as they make their debut at the Sunshine Coast Fashion Festival 2016!
Want to join the OceanZen tribe and purchase one of their ocean-saving bikinis? Head to www.oceanzenbikini.com & don’t worry, they ship world-wide!