When I met this Whanganui-raised, pancake obsessed, self-described “weirdo”, Sarah Harris had recently put university on indefinite hiatus and banked on a shot at making it in the merciless world of modelling. At this point in time, her social media following was fairly small—relatively speaking—around 20,000. She was on the precipice of becoming a Top Six finalist for Maxim’s 2014 Australia Swimsuit Model of the Year Competition. This was followed shortly thereafter by a period working as a Playboy ‘Bunny’, a role that took her everywhere from Mexico to India.
Nowadays — with a mere 1.6 million Instagram followers — Sarah and her partner Josh live in Auckland’s North Shore. Having hung up her bunny ears and shifted her career goals away from modelling contracts, Sarah now chooses to focus on self-created content and their new business start-ups. Facilitated by some sketchy bandwidth on my part (and a thinly veiled excuse to tick ‘FaceTime Sarah’ and ‘write article for Massive’ off simultaneously) I asked Sarah to share some insight—what’s life really like as an Instagram influencer?
Hey girl, what have you been up to?
Lately I’ve been working on our latest business venture Sachii Watches. We’re just in the last phase of that now—just trying to work on the packaging and work with influencers. Ironically, that’s been the hardest part. We’re preparing for a $10,000 giveaway and you would think it would be easy to get influencers involved but I’m starting to see what companies have to go through!
Your following has grown tremendously since I met you. When did you begin to start taking Instagram seriously?
I started taking it seriously probably a year and a half ago now. I started doing collaborations, but I didn’t start taking the whole ‘monetising’ side of things seriously until then. Then aesthetically, I didn’t start properly editing and trying to make the whole grid my own photos until about four months ago now.
How did you go about turning your Instagram profile into a business?
I started turning it into a business with standard Instagram stuff like tea. Tea was my first [sponsered product] and now looking back it’s so cringe! It got to the point where I was sick of promoting other people’s products. I wanted to create something that we can market for both men and women and that we can take with us while we are travelling. I also got sick of complaining about not liking the size of a watch or not liking the material and that’s how we got the idea for Sachii Watches.
Where’s the coolest place being an influencer has taken you?
Probably the Maldives, or the Courchevel Ski Resort, in the French Alps. It was unreal! It took us so long to get there, about 32 hours and I was only there for two days. It was exhausting but it was awesome — plus I met other influencers and all these other things have come from it since.
Do you feel like your social platforms are an accurate depiction of who you are?
No matter what anyone says, Instagram is still a platform where you’re only seeing the best parts of people’s lives. People don’t really want to see that your cat died, or you had an argument with your boyfriend. That’s where I feel like [Instagram] stories are really good. I think they’re a really good representation of who I am, and who Josh and I are as a couple, because we put a lot more of our day to day lives. I think the hardest part of ‘making it’ on Instagram is that not only do you start comparing yourself to other Instagrammers and influencers, but you start comparing yourself to the ‘lightroomed’, pretty, edited version of yourself as well. It’s not real life.
What’s something that people would be surprised to know about you?
Probably that I got a [fully funded university] scholarship. I feel like people will look at me—especially on social media—no matter what I write or how I portray myself, and they’re always going to make that judgement. One of the best things about the job though is when I get to meet people in person and prove them wrong.
If you hadn’t followed this career path, what do you think you would be doing right now?
To be honest, I think I would still be at uni trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Just because I got the scholarship for one degree, doesn’t exactly mean I was passionate about it. I went straight from school into uni and I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do. Either that or I would still be modelling full time — and you saw the effect it was having on my body and how much weight I was having to lose! It wasn’t worth it. It’s so cool now being able to actually monetise on my social media, create my own content, enjoy it, and do it with my loved ones.
Was it hard making the decision to leave university? Were there people in your life who were worried?
Initially it was hard. My mum (who’s like my biggest fan) sort of lay down the law for me. She basically said you have one year, if you can’t make enough to live on through modelling then you have to go back to uni. She’s happy now that we’ve taken this route. A lot of our parents’ generation are so used to nine to five jobs, they don’t always realise how much time goes into ‘vlogging' and social media and creating your content and talking to brands.
The anonymity of social media can cause people to say all sorts of dreadful things and I know you’ve received your fair share of hate. Do you have any advice for blocking out the negativity?
My best advice for that is just not to feed into the negative or the positive — which is easier said than done! At the start I found that so hard. You’re putting yourself out there and there’s all these negative comments that would get you down if they’re things you already felt about yourself. At the start I tried to focus just on the positive comments but when you’re letting any comments get to you: it affects you. You’ve just got to do your best to block it all out.
Both you and your partner work as influencers, how do you feel sharing so much of both of your lives affects your relationship?
I feel like it can go one of two ways. Girls or guys will message one of us — say I’m away from work or whatever — they’ll start messaging us saying like, “oh I saw Josh doing this” or, “oh I saw Sarah doing this”. So, you must have a lot of trust in each other because not everyone who watches us on social media loves us. That’s the negative side of things, but the positive is that we both love doing content creation and we love going on little adventures, editing—all that kind of thing. Doing something that you love with someone who is just as like-minded as you, that’s the great thing about it.
Is social media influencing a career you would recommend for people who are interested?
Yeah, definitely. Obviously, it’s like any business; there are always going to be challenges. That just is business—overcoming all the obstacles that come at you. If you want to work for yourself, if you want to have freedom (that is something that is very important to me) and you can deal with not making too much money at the start I would definitely recommend it. It’s not as easy as it’s made out to be, and not as glamorous as you would think, but it is a good lifestyle overall.
You can follow Sarah and Josh at @iamsarahharris and @joshleflex and go to sachiiwatches.com to stay updated about the release of their debut line.