SAVING the ocean one bikini at a time by using an innovative fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean.
That's the aim of OceanZen Bikini, my lifestyle swimwear label based on the Sunshine Coast.
Say what? Fishing nets and plastic bottles? Sounds weird right?
It's actually really amazing, the fabric is so soft and mind-blowing that it is made from marine debris. But how I got here is a whirlwind of an adventure.
My name is Steph Gabriel and I launched OceanZen three years ago while I was studying full-time at the University of the Sunshine Coast and working two jobs.
Yep, where on earth did I have the time to launch a business on top of all that? And more so, why did I do it?
I launched it because I am full of passion for the ocean and wanted to help save our oceans that are literally choking on our rubbish, which has all come from land.
It all began when I left Australia at the age of 20 with no idea where to go, what to do, who I was or what I wanted from life. All I knew was I had this urge to go and see the world.
So I did. I packed up and left.
I frolicked through 55 countries over three years, wandering across deserts, snowboarding mountain peaks, hiking active volcanos, sleeping under the stars with the big African five roaming free, road tripping in a junk van across South American borders and handling and feeding wild stingrays in the Caribbean as a job for a year.
That special chapter in the Cayman Islands is what essentially lead me to where I am today.
I was working with wild Southern Atlantic Stingrays on a snorkel guide sailing boat. Not your average job!
My role was to swim down deep, lure the stingrays up with squid, hold them (I'm professionally trained to do so) and allow tourists to touch their wings and learn about marine life.
It was the most surreal and craziest experience and I learned a lot about the marine world from being in it for eight hours a day, every day, for a year.
I could see all of our plastic bottles, plastic bags and rubbish ending up in the ocean.
How was this happening? And more importantly why wasn't anyone caring or doing anything about it?
So I enrolled myself into the University of the Sunshine Coast and studied a bachelor's degree in Environmental Science.
From this point I knew that marine conservation education was my career in some way or another, but my passion wasn't research and writing reports. The best place to learn about the marine world is in it.
Along the road I had discovered an innovative fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean.
From that point, OceanZen Bikini was born.
Discarded waste is one of the many huge problems that face our oceans and so 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.
It hasn't always been rainbows and unicorns though, and there are constant hurdles in following your dreams as a career.
Being self-owned and self-funded can be isolating and challenging but I really wanted to make a stand in some way for marine conservation and that passion pushed me to my creative reach to launch an idea.
If you truly believe in something and knock out all of the doubts, your passion will be the only thing you want to put all of your energy into. And the biggest hurdle of all is actually taking that step to turn your passion into a reality.
Travelling and the ocean have always inspired me, both equally exciting my soul. When I was travelling Thailand, I had just spent the day snorkelling and was sitting on the deck of a sailing boat 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.
OceanZen is not just a bikini label though, it's a movement which empowers and inspires people to make small changes in their daily lifestyle that will make a big difference to our earth.
It can be as simple as saying no to plastic bags or learning to appreciate and respect the ocean and marine life.
Every year my friends and I go to Tonga to swim with wild humpback whales (yep! wild humpback whales!) and last year I opened up a new avenue to the brand - OceanZen eco-retreats.
This September I will be taking my first group of passionate ocean lovers to Tonga so they can experience the OceanZen lifestyle and also swim with wild humpbacks.
I cannot wait to share a slice of my world!
Recently OceanZen was also selected to participate in the ING Bank Dreamstarter campaign, where only a handful of ethical businesses that ING Bank believes are change makers, are selected nationally to crowdfund for 30 days.
ING Bank will donate $15,000 to OceanZen but only if we can raise $25,000 before May 30.
I see the world with endless possibilities and nothing is unreachable if you put your mind to it and work hard.
I know this because earlier this year I set some business goals - that one day I would learn from my inspiration Sir Richard Branson and that Leonardo DiCaprio would partner with OceanZen. Well, like I said, nothing is unreachable and six weeks ago I received a call to attend an exclusive entrepreneur program at Sir Richard Branson's home on Necker Island, where Sir Richard and other amazing global leaders will meet and offer business coaching advice to grow and leverage OceanZen into a global market!
I almost fell of my chair from excitement when I received this phone call!
If you would like to support my journey and help me save the ocean, one bikini at a time, head to our: crowdfunding link ingd.me/oceanzen and watch the video.
You can also check out our bikinis at www.oceanzenbikini.com
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