One of the biggest challenges we face today in the quest for a sustainable, healthy planet is the abundance of plastic waste in and around our oceans. It was an issue Steph Gabriel discovered while on a three-year whirlwind tour of the globe. It led her to establish the sustainable swimwear label OceanZen Bikini.
“OceanZen essentially was born from an impulsive travel adventure eight years ago,” Steph says. “One of the many places I lived was a beautiful, idyllic Caribbean island where I truly discovered my passion for the ocean and marine life. From this experience, I started to learn of the impacts humans were having on the ocean.”
That passion led Steph to a degree in environmental science, where she discovered a revolutionary fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean.
“I wanted a voice for sustainability, but I didn’t want to go down the scientific research path. OceanZen Bikini is completely built around a strong foundation for sustainability and marine conservation.”
Once Steph had decided to start her business, she jumped straight in. “Within a day, I had registered the business name, purchased a website domain, got my social media handles, had a logo in the works, and my best friend was my model with my other friend as the photographer. I dived straight in, head first, without a business plan, which is usually the first step towards launching a business for some people.”
But lack of a business plan was hardly the biggest hurdle the young entrepreneur faced. As a full-time university student working two jobs, the biggest challenge was learning to market her product on a start-up budget “with not really a cent to lose towards marketing! Social media has played a massive role in the growth of OceanZen Bikini.”
“In my opinion, I didn’t want to waste my time putting together a report on the hows, whys, whos, wheres, when I knew exactly what most of that was in my head.”
While Steph is entirely self-taught, she and the brand have enjoyed amazing success. For the last two years, she has been finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and OceanZen has twice won the Ethical and Sustainability award at Sunshine Coast Fashion Week.
OceanZen’s message on sustainability, and on reducing the human footprint on our oceans has attracted media attention from around the world, most recently with an invitation to attend an exclusive entrepreneurial program held at Sir Richard Branson’s home on Necker Island.
Such success has been hard-won, though Steph has found a useful resource close to home. “Recently, I found Lisa Messenger’s Money & Mindfulness book really useful for the stage that I am at with my business. I’m also very lucky to have a best friend who also just recently launched her own start up business. We often lean on each other.”
A mentor might have been beneficial early on, she says, but the tough lessons she learned along the road have built a wealth of knowledge.
“I’ll always be learning. I think even the most experienced of entrepreneurs will always be learning as well. Most general questions can be answered through Google these days anyway. All that is missing is experience.”
Looking forward, OceanZen will be launching more eco-friendly products aimed at minimising our environmental impact. “We’re launching a new sustainable product: an eco-water bottle to help our customers avoid plastic bottles. We also launched our whale-swim retreats to swim with wild humpback whales! I’m so excited to share our love for the ocean.”
While Steph agrees that it hasn’t been easy, “following my passion was the best thing I ever did. There are definitely ups and downs with following your dreams but I feel so much excitement, passion and inspiration for loving what I do. OceanZen Bikini will never just be a swimwear label. As an entrepreneur, I am constantly thinking of creative ways to branch out. You don’t have to settle with just one path!”