Melanie Interviews: Sarah Mac of MLife

Sarah Mac is a model, an actress and Brand Director of sportswear brand, MLife. Melanie first met Sarah Mac on shoot for a Manuka Life campaign as part of her role as an ambassador for the brand.

Melanie: So what did you want to be when you were younger?

Sarah Mac: The the first thing I did was dance. I went to Northern Contemporary, but I didn’t realise at the time that I was just doing it because of my sister really. Then, Select (modelling agency) offered me a modelling contract, and I entered the model competition on the Big Breakfast Show with Gaby Roslin and Chris Evans.

Melanie: How did Select find you?

Sarah Mac: I went to The Clothes Show Live and was scouted. When I was entered into that competition, I must have been 16. Well, actually Storm scouted me first at 13, when Sarah Doukas saw me. I was my height at 13 and had these teeth. I was just weird and goofy… I didn’t really grow any taller, so I think they were slightly underwhelmed as I got older. Though I have a lot to thank for The Clothes Show in Birmingham.

Melanie: What were you like as a kid?

Sarah Mac: I was bullied horrendously. I was sporty, got on with the boys, and I was coming down to London. Where I grew up, if you were going to London, people thought you loved yourself. It was that working class mentality where you don’t get to dream. You don’t try and leave. I just needed to get somewhere else. I wasn’t going to have kids at 18, that wasn’t for me. 

I’d watch my Mum and Dad, my Mum was a nurse, my Dad a builder, and they were just struggling and I thought no. So I was grateful when Select gave me that opportunity, but it was a random opportunity, because you get there with all these aspirations and they think you’re going to be this thing.

Melanie: Were you beautiful as a child?

Sarah Mac: I never thought I was pretty. If someone had said ‘would you like to be a model?’ I’d have been, like what? You can make money from what? Great, alright! But, then you get into an agency and then they basically try to change you.

I had entered the modelling era in that ‘heroin chic’ phase, and I was just a bit too smiley, happy and not cool. I remember one of the heads of Levi’s at the time calling me the ‘effing cheerleader’ and said ‘perhaps if you stopped smiling you’d get further’. Because I’d walk in be like ‘hi-ya’! I just looked too healthy, I used to paint brown under my eyes to make me look like a junky and stop smiling.

Melanie: What successes did you have in your modelling career?

Sarah Mac: Well I did clean up in Japan.

I was perfectly skinny at the time and I got one of the really good contracts, but when I got there it was nuts. I was there a year and they constantly asked me to lose weight. Everyday they would measure my stomach and if I didn’t have the correct measurement, I had to lose weight.

To be honest, there was this mass hysteria going on with all the girls. I tried to be a bulimic and couldn’t. We all had these little food diaries, like ooh I’ve eaten a carrot and a miso soup, it’s a good day. After a year of that, I came in at 6 stone (I’m 8 and a half stone now). When I got to the airport my mum cried.

Melanie: I bet she did! But of course none of this surprises me. Modelling is a harsh industry…so then you worked in London?

Sarah Mac: Well, I just didn’t get on with the editorial route at all and I clashed with Select on so many levels. I had three bar jobs, little modelling work and some debt, so I buggered off to Africa for a year. I worked on a game reserve, looking after cheetahs and met a boyfriend there.

I was at the reserve for six months, and working with animals that could kill me at any second, just made my personality calm down. I’d send all 18 year olds to the bush, just to go and learn that nothing matters. I think that’s where I became quite yoga driven, everything was so focused on what I looked like previously and I didn’t look in a mirror for six months. I just needed to just get out of my body.

Melanie: Sounds very enlightening! So what did you do next?

Sarah Mac: I came home missing London, that magnetism, and I worked three bar jobs. I spent the next few years doing pop promos, a bit of acting, a bit of everything really.

I have no training in acting, but I did get a Theatre Studies A-Level, it has all been learning on the job. I’m so happy when I act because I am actually very shy, but when the camera is on me, it’s like I’m wearing a little mask. 

Melanie: So how did you get involved with Manuka Life?

Sarah Mac: I met Leonie (Elyatt – founder of Manuka Life) when I was a model and at 22 years old, I became the face of Manuka. She did have a casting, but I had worked with the photographer previously and he recommended me, so it was one of those heads up castings.

I worked on her campaign for about three years as a model and funnily enough, the first time I turned up, she didn’t like me at all. I was quite hungover. It was 1997 in Ladbroke Grove after carnival, that’s all I’m saying. I probably had a can of Red Stripe, probably working a double shift at the bar like YOLO, whatevs.

So I kind of rocked up and only just managed to keep that job. (laughs)

Melanie: What did you feel about the brand when you were modelling it?

Sarah Mac: I felt there was something special about it. It was really ahead of the curve, people weren’t doing it. Nike were kind of doing lycra and the sports world was quite techy. People were living in jeans, it was all denim. Levi’s & Diesel ruled, you know, and sportswear was nothing.

Melanie: What was the brand like back then?

Sarah Mac: It was organic cottons and natural fibres and at that time this was not the trend at all.

So, when I rocked up and found these natural organic cotton leggings, and the hand feel was super soft and it was eco, I just thought ‘ooh this is cool’. So I said ‘can I come into your office one day’. I didn’t know what I would do there, but modelling was up and down and after a 10 year career, I was thinking about what I was going to do after.

So, I offered to make tea and for about a year, I turned up every day. I would pack boxes, make the tea and at that point I was doing quite well with modelling. I had just worked on a car commercial for Volvo, a Virgin Airways ad and another for Wrigley’s chewing gum. I’d rock up to Manuka Life, having been first class somewhere on the Friday, and pack a box on the Monday.

Then, about a year later, in a meeting about mood boards and colour palettes, Leone said, ‘oh do you like these colours?’ and she liked my opinion, she said ‘you’ve got a good eye for colour’. So, from then on, I started choosing colours and Pantones, stuff like that. Then, I became a sales rep while also remaining as the face of the brand for all that time.

Melanie: What a cool organic happening.

Sarah Mac: Yes, it was very powerful. That’s where we developed this relationship, where she worked on logistics and I was creative. We came up with the idea that I would grow old with the brand, I’d be the face of it. We liked the vibe that we were working women, she had three kids, I was a young model, we liked the story.

Melanie: I wear Manuka Life clothing to train in and play tennis in. Even though its marketed as Yoga wear it is extremely functional, isn’t it? 

Sarah Mac: We do quite a lot of hardcore wear tests and we have really good European factories, that’s what’s key. We have excellent fabrics, it’s moisture wicking, it’s high performance, it washes well. The way it responds, it doesn’t sag at the knee.

Melanie:  The fabric is so soft as well, so comfortable to wear.

Sarah Mac: I’m glad to hear that.

The hand feel is key. We do a lot of tests and lots of wash finishes to make sure the hand feel is beautiful, because that’s what people seem to know us for. Because we started with organic cottons and now we use synthetic fibres, they are trending now, you didn’t associate that with yoga before.

The fabrics have to perform, they have to have functionality, and I think we’ve achieved that. There’s always room for improvement, but we’re only five people. The core of Manuka Life is a small, hardworking, all female team. We work with many external consultants and professionals, and at the heart of Manuka Life, you’ll still find me and Leonie. 

Melanie: What’s new for Manuka ? Apart from the AW 16 campaign, that I am proudly the ambassador for.

Sarah Mac: We’ve started to do a men’s range and we’re launching the SS17 range.

It’s going to be like our core range, you know the long sleeve tops with a thumb hole, trackie pants, the seamless technology, a six piece capsule collection.

Melanie: Who is going to model it?

That’s going to be difficult [casting the model] (laughs)… I’m thinking the Framptons, they’re attractive.

There a couple of models that Leonie’s got her eye on and they’re fitness boys. Awfully hard to look at. (laughs)

Melanie: You’re still acting and have just made a short film, where can we see it?

Sarah Mac: It’s a series on Channel 4 called ‘Random Acts’ and I’m in a short film called ‘Gravity’s Law’.  It’s quite yoga inspired in a way, because it’s about living in this city and trying to have mindfulness in a really busy place. It’s very beautiful.

Head over to MLife to check out their super chic and comfortable sportswear ranges.