She is a personal trainer, blogger, author and now has her own ethical swimwear brand. Catherine Scott meets Zanna van Dijk.
Zanna van Dijk grew up on a farm ‘in the middle of nowhere’, in East Yorkshire.
Today her life could not be more different from her childhood playing on the family farm near Beverley.
Now at just 26, she is an award-winning ‘influencer’ with more than 240,000 followers on Instagram.
She is a model with her own personal training and fitness business, and blog, has written a best-selling book Strong, has been made Adidas’s first UK Global Ambassador and has just launched her own brand of ethical swimwear, made out of recycled ocean plastics, a cause close to her heart.
“I am a keen scuba diver and have been diving since I was 12 and I was becoming increasingly aware of the problem of ocean plastics, especially from fishing nets,” says Zanna.
“I wanted to raise the subject on a larger scale but this was before BBC’s Blue Planet programme and people just weren’t that interested.”
A regular at beach clean ups, Zanna decided to write a blog about the problem and post a photo of the rubbish she collected on just 200m of beach in Jamaica. Her photo went viral but she still felt there was little political will to do anything about it.
That is, until Blue Planet II and the outcry that followed it.
Adidas, who have made her their first UK brand ambassador, launched a pair of trainers made out of recycled ocean plastics, which gave Zanna an idea.
“I wanted to make something out of ocean plastics but I wanted it to be relevant to the subject and so I came up with the idea of ethical swimwear.”
With friend Natalie Glaze, they launched Stay Wild swimwear which is proving a huge hit, with some colours already sold out.
She is more than aware that it is hard to pin down exactly what she does for a living.
“I don’t really like the labels ‘influencer’ or ‘Instagram star’,” she says.
“I do lots of different things and am very, very busy which I like.”
It is all a far cry from where Zanna thought she would be when she embarked on a speech and language therapy course at the University of Sheffield – coming away with a first-class honours degree.
“I wanted to do something that would help people but would also make use of my science brain. I thought I would work in stroke rehabilitation.”
But it was her unhealthy student lifestyle which actually led to her social media career.
“I ate and drank the wrong things and put on quite a lot of weight and so I started going the gym,” she explains.
“None of my friends were really into fitness and so I went online and found there were lots of like-minded people. I found a community that had the same interests as me.
“I started posting workouts and recipes on my personal Instagram and my friends just didn’t care and didn’t want to read them, so I decided to make a fitness account where I could talk about what I love.
“Slowly, over the course of a couple of years, it grew organically,” she added. “I never thought I’d get 1,000 followers.”
She now has 240,000 and is seen as a key influencer with brands clamouring for her to endorse their products.
After a few months travelling Zanna realised that she had the opportunity to make something out of her online following.
“I knew that I would only have one chance of this and if it didn’t work out I could always come back.”
She received an offer to go to London and do a personal training course. “I never imagined myself being a personal trainer or living in London but I thought I’d give it a go. I thought I’d be there for about six weeks – three-and-a-half years later I am still there,” says Zanna.
“I have always seen social media as a way of doing something positive, a way of reaching a much wider audience.”
However, Zanna is more than aware of the downside of social media and restricts her online time.
“My boyfriend always laughs at me and says I make a living out of social media and yet I am on it the least of all the people we know,” she says.
“But I go on and do what I need to do and then put it away. I never browse and only follow close friends. But I do understand that it can become a problem for some people, particularly younger people. But I do think it will be around for at least another 10 years.”
She is also very keen on boosting confidence in girls and was integral in setting up with the #girlgains movement.
#girlgains was set up with Zanna and two friends with the aim of empowering, inspiring, educating and motivating women to be the best versions of themselves.
From being an online community they now organise events.
“The main focuses of #girlgains are not only fitness and nutrition, we discuss a variety of different ‘gains’ that women can make,” explains Zanna. “Sure they can gain strength, health and fitness, but they can also gain happiness, positivity, self love, confidence and ambition.
“We want to make women feel good about every aspect of their lives, we want to change their mindsets and we want to inspire them to better themselves every single day.
“Not only this, but we want to encourage them to support other women to do the same. At our core, we are a community.”
Zanna van Dijk is an ambassador for the new Huawei Mate20 lite.