Human, Friend, Ocean Lover, and OCIN Founder | Meet Courtney Chew

Author: Zenna Wilberg / Photos: Alan Chan
08.27 / Style

Vancouver-based Courtney Chew is the founder of ocean-inspired minimalist apparel brand OCIN; as well as an advocate for the environment and practicing kindness, among other pursuits. From her experience in the fashion industry working with prominent Canadian brands like Aritzia, wings+horns, and Kit and Ace, Courtney has taken on the daunting task of creating her own brand that fills a unique niche. OCIN was born of her desire to build an eco-friendly local brand that encourages people to connect to their most free and open selves.

We got to chat with Courtney about her career path, OCIN, problems facing the fashion industry today, and more. Get to know her below!

Tell us a little about your background in fashion.

To be honest I didn’t always think that I was going to end up in fashion. I’d always
been drawn to beauty and scents and had thought that I’d end up making
perfume or being a makeup artist growing up. I landed my first gig in
‘fashion’ when I was 16, working in retail for part-time experience, thinking it
would be a temporary thing - ended up working my way up and staying with
that company for almost five years. Fast forward 12 years later, and I’m still in
this space, having worked with some truly amazing local brands including
Aritzia, wings+horns, and Kit and Ace, from overseeing their marketing, retail
and brand strategies, to helping grow from a start-up into a global retailer, to
leading community and global experiential activations. I also try and make
time to consult with smaller brands to guide them with their brand vision. And
the best thing is that I’ve been able to stay, live, and build my career right in
my home city, Vancouver (Canada).

What ultimately inspired you to create your own brand, OCIN?

I love that I’ve been able to work for local brands that are driven by a greater purpose
to connect with their communities. And that’s been a constant theme. So, on
one hand, I was inspired to create OCIN because I want more of the world to
know about the thoughtful brands that are coming out of Vancouver and be
recognized as the entrepreneurial city that this beautiful city is. On a personal
level, OCIN exists because I want to connect people to their most open, free
and positively impactful selves. I always associate this to the person we are
when we’re traveling. We live into this side of us that is open to new
experiences, meeting new people, doing new things, that oftentimes we don’t
put out there the same way at home. We fall into our routine and sometimes
we get wrapped up in our own ‘busy-ness’ that separates us, that we forget
the simple things that truly connects us, like saying ‘hi’ to our local barista or
even just going for a walk to appreciate what we are so lucky to be
surrounded by and learn from every day - each other and our earth. If we can
each remain curious and humble enough to listen, share stories, create, and
support one another, I truly think we can make some really cool sh*t happen
together for our collective future. And at OCIN we want to focus that energy
of ‘doing good’ into giving back to ourselves, our communities and our oceans.

Did you always know you wanted to start your own business? What’s been
the biggest learning curve?

Yeah, was always a long-term dream for sure. My dad is an entrepreneur and my mom
was a freelance designer, so I think growing up, seeing the flexibility that they
had with my sister and I, working so hard but not being limited to
a 9-5pm desk job and getting to travel with us while we were little, intrigued
me. And looking back through my career journey, I definitely would say that
with every role I took on, and the new responsibilities that came with it, it helped
me to get to where I am today. I always pushed the limits to see how I could
challenge myself, how much I could learn, and what I could take away and
absorb from that role and the people around me, to set me up for being able
to start a business one day.

The biggest learning curve is that I am starting a business all on my own. I’ve always
been in positions where I’d have to wear so many hats at once and be
involved in different areas of the business, but I always had a team to bounce
ideas off of, to lean on for advice and to execute where their expertise lies.
But thankfully I’ve got an immensely supportive group of friends and family
around me, who let me pick their brains and help me through these areas
when I need them.

What would you say is the biggest issue with the fashion industry today?
What can consumers do to help change this?

I’d say the biggest issue with the fashion industry, is that we’re ultimately in the
business to produce and create something new, all the time, every season.
It’s a problem in fashion for sure, but it exists in all other industries of
consumption - we’re just surrounded by stuff and so much of it. And we’re at
a state now where we all have more than we know what to do with it or how
to dispose of it, and it’s not slowing down. That’s not to say that creation is a
bad thing, but I think as businesses we hold a responsibility to be more
thoughtful with our ‘why’, what we’re creating, how we’re doing it, and where
it can add value to our customers. And at the same time, it also falls on the
customers to shift their interaction with the products and services they invest
in. Taking a bit more time understanding of what they need, how it plays into
their lives, even where the products come from or what they’re being packaged
in. If consumers start supporting companies of quality and substance that are
doing more for them and for the world, we will start seeing a change in our
standards and expectations for the types of brands that exist for us moving
forward. I know I’m saying this being the founder of a ‘swim label’ but I say it
also as a reminder for why OCIN exists - no one really needs another retail
brand. But if we can continue to build brands and connect with those that get
us thinking about our consumption and our impact, that’s where the
momentum for change will start.

OCIN has several dedicated environmental practices, like using recycled
materials in products and packaging. Why was it so important to you to
make these commitments?

It definitely stems from my own personal connection to the ocean. I’ve grown up
swimming and have always been close to the water and the ocean. Over the
past five years or so I’ve started to become more aware and educated about
all the horrible (and avoidable) things that we’re doing that are killing this
ecosystem, and it just hurts to see it. And so I made it a personal mission to
reduce my plastic use where possible and try to be more conscious overall.
When building OCIN I wanted to make sure that this conscious effort was a
part of the brand as well. And I say conscious because I know we’re not
perfect, but we are 100% committed to continuing to learn and evolve our
practices as we grow.

The most important thing to me when making these commitments was so that it would
be easy for our community to feel like they’re taking action and joining this
movement as well. I’m trying to turn this conversation from something that in
the past has been oftentimes been alienating and super extreme, into
something more approachable and empowering for everyone that wants to do
good. If through OCIN we can inspire a conscious community leading with
encouragement, sincerity, and curiosity, not discouragement, ego or fear,
that’s super cool.

Can you explain what it means to OCIN to be a “global citizen”?

I first heard of this term in a Stephen Hawking quote that we actually have up on our
website home page right now - it totally resonated. To me, being a global
citizen represents the respect, compassion, and action that we owe to
ourselves and those around us. It represents the responsibility that we have
to not just think about ourselves but to also think about the impact that we
have on the people and earth around us. If we can spend time enjoying this
place that we live, amongst people that we love living on it with, then it’s our
responsibility to also protect it so that it lasts for generations to come. And the
key is doing it together. Individual actions matter, but connecting on common
ground and motivating change together is so powerful. And way more fun
too.

What’s your fave piece from the upcoming OCIN collection?

I love them all! haha. But I am wearing the cross-back one piece a lot these days - a
great option for that bodysuit, turned swimsuit piece. I also wear the classic
top as an alternative to a bra. We’re proud to use Econyl™ yarns in our
women’s pieces, and they’re not only good for the environment but they’re so
insanely comfortable. For the guys, I love the mesh compression board short.

I always thought that there was a miss with men’s swim shorts not providing
an inner layer that was supportive or soft enough. I wanted to design a piece
that guys could wear at the gym, surf and swim in, and then go grab food in,
without necessarily having to go home to change.

Besides creating your brand, what do you love to do when you have a spare
moment?

I’ve learned the hard way what happens to your body and mind when you’re overexerting
and always stressed. It’s really important to be hardworking and
dedicated. But I also now understand how equally important it is to take care
of yourself, not just physically, but mentally as well. So, amidst all the
craziness of running a business, I definitely try to fit in a workout every day, or
at least a long walk, and a quick meditation and stretch in the morning before
getting out of bed. And I like to book a couple coffee dates in my calendar
throughout the week to take a breather and connect with friends and family.
And in the evenings you can probably find me grabbing an ice cream
somewhere.

What does MISSBISH mean to you? Who is your MISSBISH?
MISSBISH means empowerment, respect, and leadership. And being brave to not only
trust in your experience but being kind and humble enough to recognize and
learn from the journeys of those around you too. My MISSBISHes are all those
individuals, males and females, who are letting their walls down every day
and inspiring others to be kind - to themselves, each other and this one world
that we all share and that truly connects us to one another.