We sat down with Laura from Double X collective to have a chat about OceanZen and the journey it's been so far and this is what she published to http://www.doublexcollective.com
Steph Gabriel, Founder OceanZen Bikini
Steph Gabriel is the energetic, vibrant and deeply passionate powerhouse behind OceanZen Bikini. Just three years in she is kicking major goals with her business; a business that brings completely sustainable bikinis to ocean lovers. I had the great pleasure of chatting to Steph and learning all about OceanZen, why she feels she lived her life in reverse and how her love for travel, the ocean and living life in a bikini brought her home. This woman is amazing, I absolutely loved talking to Steph and I hope you feel as energised and inspired hearing her story as I did.
Tell us about your business
OceanZen is a lifestyle swimwear label that is focused on marine conservation and education. It represents a lifestyle that ocean lovers and bikini lovers can relate to and, most importantly, OceanZen is completely sustainable. We use a special fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets retrieved from the ocean and the bikinis are packed in recyclable pillow boxes instead of plastic when purchased.
Why do you do what you do?
My passion for the ocean is why I started Oceanzen. My background is Environmental/Marine Science and I've had some amazing and rare opportunities to research and work with some incredible creatures. I spent 5 months in the Galapagos Islands researching sea lions, sharks, turtles but it all started when I used to live in the Caribbean on a tiny bunch of islands called the Cayman Islands. My day job there was to handle, play and feed wild stingrays (yep the ones with barbs) for the tourists.
Craziest and coolest job which was probably the seed that planted the tree. I came back to Australia after three years straight of travel and decided I wanted to save the ocean. Although my job in Cayman was such an amazing and rare opportunity, I could see that there was a major problem with these wild creatures becoming dependent on humans for food and being handled. I wanted to protect them. So I impulsively enrolled into Uni back in Australia and got myself a degree.
Half way through (my degree) my mind began to drift, thinking of ways that I could start raising awareness for current marine issues and thinking of ways I could save the ocean in my own way.
I love to surf, dive, snorkel and I loooooove bikini's and eventually came up with OceanZen, a way that I can combine all my passions in one.
Starting a business, especially one that involves manufacturing goods seems like such a huge undertaking. How did you get started? Walk us through what was involved?
For sure, I've found it is one of the biggest challenges!
I spend a few months in Bali every year getting the new collections on their way. A lot of small businesses and young entrepreneurs live there and embrace the relaxed lifestyle and culture to suit their working hours which is awesome and inspiring to meet others following their dreams too.
I had heard of a few manufacturers and eventually found one that had ethical working practices and conditions, which was essential for me. If I didn't find an ethical manufacturer I wasn't going to do business there. Luckily most of the manufacturers in Bali are family owned, offering more of a tailor service rather than sweat shops in China. Having said this, working with smaller manufacturers is a challenge, there are minimum quantities to meet and digital printing minimums and if I'm honest it is a nightmare!
There are numerous rounds of sampling before the final design is selected; sometimes up to 10 rounds... and it all costs money. Being a start up business in retail, all your cash goes into the manufacturing and production process.
Did people think you were crazy?
Actually most of my friends didn't believe me when I first said I was starting OceanZen. I had come up with other ideas before, one of them being a TV show on marine conservation and education on the sunshine coast.
A lot of people have really great business ideas but never turn it into something. What was different for you, that you turned a passion/idea into reality?
That is very true. Doubt can very easily cloud the mind and there are always risks involved, but following your dream and passion has to be the most rewarding gift to yourself.
For me, I really wanted to make a stand in some way for marine conservation and that passion 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.
What have been the biggest challenges to date?
Being a start up business is hard and every dollar is constantly going back into the business. Starting OceanZen two years ago, I was a full-time Uni student, so I was poor enough as it was! The costs of manufacturing always keep adding up, especially if you want detailed garments, which in my case is essential for individuality. Manufacturing is definitely the biggest and most constant challenge.
What have been the greatest achievements?
Two years ago I wanted OceanZen to be a support network for ocean lovers, bikini lovers and ocean conservationists... a community of young women... and today it is exactly just that…. But I had discovered an amazing fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean and having an ocean conservation and marine science background, this excited my soul!!! Unfortunately it came at a large cost and being a small start up business at the time I had to wait until I could financially afford it.
Now two years on, I can proudly say that OceanZen is completely sustainable, with the lycra manufactured from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean.
This is such a huge achievement and goal kicked for not only OceanZen but for me personally too.
Apart from that, OceanZen itself is an achievement. Starting a business whilst still at Uni is a little crazy and out of the norm – sometimes I feel like I have lived my life in reverse! - but now I can look at this (business) and truly know that I have followed what my heart desires.
What inspires you?
Diving is one of them and seeing all of these awesome creatures, its a whole other world down there!
Travelling, it’s the reason I’m here today. It always opens my eyes, awakens my soul; it's exciting. The name OceanZen actually came to me while I was on a boat in Thailand.
When you finished school, is this where you thought you would be?
Not at all. I started out as an Events Coordinator in Sydney, and I hated it! At the last minute, I just decided to pack up, quit the job and leave to travel. This was how I ended up in the Cayman’s. The saying everything happens for a reason is so true to me, as that first job, that decision to up and leave ultimately is the thing that brought me home.
Looking back at your journey, what are your top tips for other women wanting to start or pursuing a heart based business?
Don't let your fear of failure override your desire. You can do anything you want. Save a few dollars to kick-start, start small and then watch it grow into your reality.
Stick to your individuality and uniqueness.
Reach out to some other women in your community who inspire you and ask for advice. At the end of the day, we are a support network for each other, we’re all trying to break away from what society has defined as a career and creating our own dream life. We should stick together.
Tell us about the things you have coming up that are most exciting to you?
Off to swim with humpback whales this year again in Tonga. These guys are my absolute favourite animal, I worked with them for 4 years here in Australia and am constantly blown away by how conscious they are.
Three of us OceanZen girls went last year and had the most incredible experience.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yep, the road won't be easy. In fact I've been knocked down flat on my butt more for following this passion. When you believe in something so much and want it to work, sometimes it feels like the world is fighting against you because at the end of the day, society has its 'requirements' and there are 'rules and expectations' that will (have to be) ignored sometimes when following your dream. But at the end of the day, you will be so proud following your dream and creating your own future and being your own boss!
Thanks Steph for taking the time to speak with us, you are amazing and cramming so much into life! I know we will continue to see big things from you and OceanZen.
Wow! What a woman, what a dream!