Meet a carefree, ocean loving mermaid who is passionate, conscious and inspiring to so many of us. Steph Gabriel is a founder of sustainable swimwear company, OceanZen. OceanZen’s fabric is made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles from the ocean and landfill.
I love meeting and get inspired by people like Steph. There are so many problems and issues we need to tackle to help the world move towards more compassionate and thriving place to live. Sometimes it is overwhelming and disheartening. We can moan and complain about the state of the world. But Steph decides to do something about it.
Hope it wakes something in you after reading the interview. It doesn’t have to be as big as founding a company. It starts with a little thing everyday. Support companies that have the ethos aligned to yours.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The excitement of exploring, climbing or swimming ☺. I love to spend my days off doing active things. While I absolutely love having my own business, doing something I am passionate about, at the end of the day it is still work and still a responsibility haha, so the joys of literally waking up and having the freedom of doing whatever I choose on my weekend, that is fun!!!
What inspired you to start OceanZen? 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 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! So I started to brain storm ways I could have a voice for conservation in my own unique 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 and from this moment, OceanZen was born.
What are your design and artistic inspirations?
What was your first product launch like— and what was the same or different compared to your most recent? My first product launch was at my house with 35 girls and lots of champagne, all having a launch and trying on bikinis. My second product launch had about 60 people at a local venue, with a bikini fashion show. My last product launch had over 130 people, media, photographers, models from an agency with a catwalk show, sponsors, prizes, DJ, photobooth, with my most varied collection of styles, colours and prints to date. This current collection has definitely been my most successful and I am so proud of this great sense of achievement. With this collection OceanZen also featured at Fashion Week on the catwalk (I had tears in my eyes walking down the catwalk holding hands with one of my models) And was so humbled to accept the Ethical and Sustainability award at this event. This collection also gave me the honour of being a top 5 finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. My new collection that I am in the design phase of now will feature more variety to suit any girl’s taste, including a one piece! I was actually meant to launch a one piece with this collection, but it was holding me back from launching the rest of the collection because the sampling stage basically was a disaster haha. It was a very intricate design and there were communication issues with my manufacturer.
Has the recognition that you’ve received changed something for you? It has only made me more passionate and driven to keep on going. There are always ups and downs in business, and sometimes I am literally on a rollercoaster of emotions. But when I contact from the media or receive such great feedback from customers or marine conservationists who truly and genuinely believing in my mission, it makes me so happy!
Would you share any of your favourite eco sustainable tips?
I have a top 3 ☺First one is plastic bags!! Plastic bags are terrible for the environment and turtles quite often mistaken plastic bags for their favorite food; jellyfish. Buying a reusable grocery bag is your best way to help reduce the use of plastic bags. Secondly, plastic bottles are another killer. We literally use them one and throw them out. They are also full of nasty chemicals that we should definitely not be putting in our mouths. Lastly, compos your food scrapst!! Separate your organic food waste and pop it in your garden for compost and sit back and watch your garden flourish
What is your advice to other women wanting to start their own business?
DO IT! I love hearing stories of women throwing in the towel with their jobs and breaking away from society and following their passions and dreams. Today more and more of our own are doing this, and we are creating a great tribe on a national level. Whatever you are passionate about, whatever makes you smile and happy and gets YOU out of bed in the morning, do that! This life is short, do not waste a single day of your life doing something that does not serve you a purpose. While this all sounds great, and can be very empowering to want to follow your bliss, of course there are realities to consider because at the end of the day, as much as we all would love to follow our dreams and (in my case live on an island) we all need to eat and have a roof over our head. So part 2 of my advice is to prepare and plan. Don’t just quit your job and wake up and say today I am going to “start a bikini label”… Although this is a little what I did… But prepare and strategise; what, how, when, where, research and save those pennies so you have a budget to play with once launched.
What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now? What do you plan to make happen 2017?
Currently I’m in the middle of designing my new collection whilst also organising our first OceanZen eco-retreat. Every year we go to Tonga and swim with humpback whales in the wild, and this year we are finally opening it up to the public to come with us and experience these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. I don’t ever want OceanZen to be just about bikinis, we are so much more than just a bikini label. Having the opportunity to branch out in other ventures, whilst still sticking to the core values of OceanZen is exciting.
With your busy schedule how do you make time for yourself and have a healthy lifestyle?
Every morning I start my day with exercise as I find after a long day at work the last thing I want to do is workout. During the week I also usually like to eat clean meals, a chocolate here or there but I try to prep all my meals for the week on a Sunday night, then when Friday comes I know I deserve a night out. I do like to spend my weekends getting out and about, whether that be active or relaxing, so that’s why I try to exercise most mornings out of my 5 day work week. I truly believe in a balanced lifestyle, sometimes I over indulge in chocolate and unbalance it though :p…
Any other social issues you are passionate about?
Marine debris is definitely a topic I love talking about through OceanZen, which doesn’t involve too much politics and usually inspires people. I do have a few other issues about the ocean that I am extremely passionate about but I have to be careful when voicing such a strong opinion through my business: Shark nets, shark finning, whaling and marine animals in captivity e.g seaworld are some other issues that are close to my heart.
In a swimwear industry some images can amplify anxiety over body image insecurities in many women. do you have any opinions on this and how do you promote healthy mind and body instead of being part of unrealistic projections.
I definitely understand this feeling! Yes I am the creator of a bikini label, but there is a person behind that label, an average girl that is also a person who feels all of the same emotions as every other girl. Infact through my business, engaging with these beautiful and incredible bodied women has caused some insecurities for myself in the past. And through this experience I have become a huge advocate for women loving the skin they are in! I have a big booty, and curves and cellulite! And I wear my oceanzen bikinis proudly. Having an online business, especially in the bikini business I constantly have beautiful girls popping up on my feed, the typical brown, skinny, perfect abs and no love handle girl with not a little bit of cellulite on her. These girls are beautiful, but who are we to say that we are not just as beautiful? I myself even sometimes catch me comparing, as I have a very curvy body with a rather voluptuous booty. We as women need to stick together more, stop comparing, stop judging and learn to love ourselves for the way we are. And not feel pressured to have to change the way we look to fit into certain trends. Anyone should be able to wear what they like. I have girls in all shapes and sizes ordering OceanZen, infact we just had 14 models at Sunshine Coast Fashion Week, all very beautiful girls with booties and boobies! We as women need to learn how to love our bodies, and stop putting ourselves in a category of “I can’t wear that, or that won’t look good on me”. Society has a way of manipulating our thoughts into thinking we need to look a certain way, and this genuinely frustrates me. Specifically, because I also go through this personally sometimes and have to give myself a little slap across the wrist to knock some sense back into me.
Find their range of sustainable AND stylish swimwear on OceanZen website here
and follow them via instagram Oceanzen_bikini