Queensland entrepreneur Steph Gabriel has come up with a unique way of helping to save the earth's oceans and build a successful business -- by selling bikinis made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles.
The material used in her Summer Somewhere swimwear collection is called Econyl. It's made by Italian firm Aquafil which regenerates abandoned fishing nets and plastic bottles from the ocean and landfill as well as carpets, clothing and any other textiles containing nylon into a material known as Nylon 6.
The resulting product can be used for swimwear, gymwear as well as heavy duty sports clothing for the snow and other harsh conditions.
Gabriel came across Econyl two years ago when she launched her brand OceanZen, but had to wait until this year to afford the material.
" I started OceanZen when I was a full-time Uni student so I was a little bit poor at the time as most uni students are," she told The Huffington Post Australia.
"It was a bit of a bummer when I found out about Econyl because I was pretty disheartened when I couldn't get the fabric because it is a little more expensive.
"But that's why I am really excited now. It's such a huge achievement for me and OceanZen.
"With all sustainable products there's always a lot of time and cost that go into it because they are so unique as well.
"It's pretty exciting that they can recreate discarded waste into something as awesome as this Italian lycra. It's pretty cool."
Her first two swimwear lines were a combination of imported designs from Hawaii and a range created by Gabriel, but Summer Somewhere is the first to use Econyl, and she has designed the entire range herself.
Gabriel says she was inspired to do something to help the marine environment while working as a backpacker in the Cayman Islands and seeing firsthand how marine life and coral reefs were suffering as a result of tourism.
"For my job on a yacht, we were trained to swim down and lure the stingrays up to the surface of the ocean where the tourists could then pat them and get their photo," she said. "That's what sparked it because I was all of a sudden exposed to all of these human impact and threats we were facing -- not just the stingrays but the coral reefs over there.
"That sparked this journey with marine conservation, environmental science and OceanZen because at that point I wanted to do something."
Gabriel said the 30-40 Southern Atlantic stingrays that would gather at a sandbar called Stingray City were being overfed, losing their predatory instincts and getting sick as a result.
"I was questioning, why don't people know about this? Why is it continuing to happen and why is nothing being done?," she said.
Gabriel returned to Australia and enrolled in uni to study environmental marine science but mid-way through her course grew impatient and began to brainstorm.
"I am always surfing, I am always in the ocean and I care so much about marine conservation -- that is my heart and soul," she said.
"My entrepreneurial mind was ticking and I really wanted to do something different in my own way for marine conservation."
Among her ideas was a David Attenborough-style TV show on the Sunshine Coast to talk about environmental issues, but OceanZen was her final inspiration.
Gabriel, who works part time in marine education in schools with Queensland-based program Ocean Life Education, is passionate about educating her followers on current marine issues and uses her social media to get the word out.
"Since I launched I have always done posts on social media updating all my followers on current marine conservation issues," she said. "So on my Instagram I'll post if I have had encounters with whales or sea lions -- all sorts of animals who are facing some kind of threat.
"I always get on there and I share my experiences and knowledge to my followers so they can be aware because, to be honest, there are so many things happening and people just don't know about it because it is not being spoken about.
"I think people really appreciate it as well. It is a point of difference and it does make it not always about bikinis. There is a purpose behind OceanZen and there is a soul to it."
Turtles, our favourite friends of the sea, are currently facing huge threats!! Their favourite food is sea grass, seaweed, shellfish and JELLYFISH 🐢 And unfortunately in the water plastic bags look a lot like jellyfish and they eat it resulting in a disease called float syndrome. Tiny little gas bubbles form in their coloemic cavity forcing them to float the surface of the ocean. They are unable to dive down and feed, can't avoid predators and can't find shelter. Sadly if the turtle is not rescued in time it will live a very short and grim life 😩 We are doing our part by supporting the use of recyclable material made from plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean whilst supporting marine science groups such as @wearethesirens @cleancoastcollective!! 📸 @scottwilsonimagery 🐢🐠🌴🐋 #marinescience #marineconservation #turtle #loggerhead #saveouroceans #protectthereef
The next step for Gabriel is to build her business to a point where she can share a percentage of its profits for eco-friendly groups and causes.
"OceanZen already is a sustainable product and having the posts, the scientific updates is really awesome but I think if I was to organise a not-for-profit it would make it a whole sustainable brand," she said.
"I would love to be able to donate a percentage of profits to a new organisation each year of my choice that from my scientific background that I think is going a good job or that really needs funding for a real issue."
The collection will make its debut at this year's Sunshine Coast Fashion Festival on October 22.