As a consumer in the fashion industry, it's not always easy to make the right choices for the environment. Some days, it can seem like an impossible task just to find a bikini that keeps our bits in the right places and our tooshies looking pert, let alone a bikini that also makes a positive impact on the health of our planet. That's why we absolutely love hearing about brands that are killing it in the field of sustainable, eco-friendly design.
OceanZen bikinis is definitely one of these brands - making use of recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles to create playfully sexy designs that actually help to save our oceans. We chat with the founder of OceanZen, Steph Gabriel about what we can all do to kick a little ass for the environment..
Hey Steph, how are you today?
Great, thank you! Salty after a morning of catching some fun little waves.
Where are you based right now?
Living on the beautiful Sunshine Coast of Australia at the moment. Originally from Sydney and have wandered around the globe a couple of times in between.
Tell us about OceanZen Bikinis and how it all began.
My passion for the ocean and marine conservation is essentially what lead me to create OceanZen. In my early 20s I decided I wanted more from life than working full-time in an office in Sydney. So I packed my bags and impulsively left Australia on a one way ticket, which resulted in a solo adventure abroad for 3 years.
I floated around the globe, from chilling in the middle of the Kruger Park in South Africa with elephants and leopards to snowboarding mountain peaks in Whistler, Canada; volunteering with orphans in Bali to buying a combi van in Colombia and driving it down South America where I surfed world class waves in Costa Rica. But the chapter that really changed my life was spending a year in the Cayman Islands of the Caribbean. I landed a job there working with Southern Atlantic Stingrays for eco-tourism. Part of my role was to dive down, lure the stingrays to the surface and hold them safely while tourists got their photos. The most INCREDIBLE experience!!!
I had discovered a deep connection with the ocean and marine animals. But I also started to learn about the human impacts that were effecting the marine eco systems and marine life, including the stingrays. From this point on I wanted to learn more, and learn how I could help the ocean.
I came home and enrolled into uni to study Environmental Science, which has also taken me back around the globe researching incredible animals like humpback whales, sharks, sea lions and coral reefs. The most incredible chapter was spending 4 months in the Galapagos Islands where I spent my days in the ocean playing with sea lions… for research of course..
All of this wasn’t enough though, I wanted to do more and learn more and help share this powerful message for marine conservation that was shared with me back in the Caribbean. I wanted to create my own sustainable voice and next minute OceanZen was born from my passion for sustainability. My entire lifestyle is based in or around the water, which most of the time involved wearing bikinis. I don’t own bras haha, so it felt only natural to combine the two things that I love; swimwear and marine conservation together.
OceanZen raises awareness for marine conservation issues and supports a cleaner ocean by using fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean. The brand practices sustainability throughout the entire business model and the bikinis are packed and sent to customers in recycled cardboard pillow boxes completely avoiding the use of plastic.
Plastic/marine debris is causing major issues for our oceans and the more businesses that choose sustainability, the stronger the message is to consumers to want to make a change.
What are the production steps that you go through to get from recycled bottles and fishing nets to super cute bikini sets?
The yarn is made in the USA and begins with the collection of kilometres of fishing nets being hauled out of the ocean with floating devices that lift up the heavily weighted nets.
The nets get taken to a factory where they are cleaned and shredded into little pieces, and then get manufactured into a very fine yarn. The yarn then gets shipped all the way to Italy to be re-created into a lycra to make it stretchy. The fabric then gets shipped to Australia to be printed with our unique prints, then gets shipped to Bali to our lovely family-owned manufacturer who we have worked with for the last 2 years. It goes right around the globe!! I also choose to manufacture in Bali for reasons close to my heart. Throughout my travels I had seen poverty, and understand that money in this world needs to be shared, otherwise however will the poor have wealth? It’s important to make sure that you are supporting ethical production though and not supporting sweat shops which are often terrible and dangerous working conditions.
Are there any limitations in design when you’re using sustainable fabrics?
Definitely! I often see solid colours and different feels of fabric that I absolutely love!! But unfortunately they aren’t made from recycled nylon. That’s why I like to have lots of variety in prints, because printing on white sustainable fabrics is easier. There is definitely an increasing awareness and demand for this unique and sustainable fabric, so hopefully in the future there is an abundance of variety to choose from.
You’ve got some pretty incredible brand ambassadors – is it easy to get support within the fashion community for environmental issues?
Oh thank you!! Hmmm yes and no. I often receive emails from supporters sending through beautiful messages to say how much they love the brand and believe in the ethics behind it, but that is because they have a love for the ocean and want to protect it as well. Sustainability doesn’t align with everyone's beliefs and the fashion industry has lots of dirty little secrets. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world and with 7 billion people on the planet, all wearing clothes, it’s important to understand the fashion cycle. Fast fashion is destroying the industry, as they produce new styles on a weekly basis at a super cheap price to encourage consumers to buy more products made at an even cheaper price from a worker that is either a child, or an adult in terrible working conditions and dramatically underpaid. The Ranaza Palaza Incident killed 1,1000 sweat shop workers in Bangladesh in 2013 and the sad thing is that the workers had complained the day before about cracks in the walls, yet they were forced to continue working. The brands in the fashion industry that are making a positive impact should be the industry leaders.
Are you inspired by any other brands out there doing great things for the environment?
There are a couple of brands that are really doing wonders in their own unique way. My friend Brandon is the co-founder of an awesome towel company, Sand Cloud and they donate 10% of their profits to marine conservation. It’s important to remember that sustainability is a choice and the organisations and brands that choose this business model are truly trying to make a change in the world. Another really cool brand is Bureo - they make skateboards out of recycled fishing nets.
There is an amazing shift happening towards sustainability and new and innovative technology is allowing brands to get creative and help positively impact our environment.
What’s this we hear about an eco-retreat to swim with whales in Tonga..?
Haha yes so so excited!! It’s pretty much the highlight of my year every year to go to Tonga and swim with the whales. OceanZen lives and breathes a lifestyle based in and around the ocean. And this year we decided we wanted to start bringing our supports with us, to show them a little insight into our world. It is truly the most magical experience to swim with a whale in the wild. The calves are so playful and cheeky, they are so aware of how small and fragile we humans are. They ‘measure’ the distance between us with their pec fins and that’s how they can determine how far away/close they are from us. And when a male sings for a female.. WOW. The sound is so loud it vibrates through your lungs. So so so beautiful!!
We have a couple of spots left but they won’t last long!! If anyone is keen shoot us an email at email@example.com
What’s next for OceanZen? Do you have any exciting collaborations or campaigns in the works?
We actually have a few crazy things coming up. First and foremost… I have just been invited to attend Richard Branson's Entrepreneurial program on Necker Island!! Still in shock, this only happened a few days ago.
We are actually in the process of launching a new product as well - an eco-water bottle!! Plastic bottles are terrible for the environment, literally only used once and thrown out. Research shows that only 1 in 5 plastic bottles actually get recycled, the rest ultimately ending up in landfill or the ocean and plastic does not biodegrade and therefore impacts our environment and oceans.
By introducing an awesome little solution to plastic bottles hopefully we can inspire our customers to fill up with a re-usable bottle.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming fashion designers who want to make a positive impact on the planet?
Start by making small, easy changes. I had a lady reach out to me the other day in the lingerie industry and she mentioned that her clientele don’t necessarily align with sustainability but she really wanted to see how she could switch her brand towards the more eco direction. It’s completely understandable if your target audience isn’t in the niche of sustainability as every industry has a different target market.
My advice was to firstly make the switch to more sustainable packaging. One thing that drives my slightly bonkers is plastic branded packaging that is literally only used to open up the product, once, for maximum a few seconds. There are so many creative packaging options these days that are sustainable. For example we pack all of our bikinis in recycled cardboard pillow boxes, completely avoiding the use of any unnecessary plastic that could potentially end up in our oceans and injure marine life.
Get creative and making a simple switch like that can make a dramatic difference for the environment, that could also potentially make your product move valuable. Imagine if every single brand used sustainable packaging?
Start with small simple changes.
If anyone has any questions feel free to email me! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Designer // Steph Gabriel @stephyygabriel
Bikinis // OceanZen Bikinis @oceanzen_bikini
Interview // Anna Jordan @annajordan89