It’s not everyday you come across a model-entrepreneur with a holistic health focus and a double degree in law and business (with honours!). Sage Greenwood is passionate about health and has made her mark on the modelling and health industries.
Sage is Managing Director of WINK Models Melbourne and co-founder of Golden Grind, an international, fast-growing turmeric product company she started with her sister and brother-in-law.
Your passion for healthy bodies is evident through your work with WINK and Golden Grind. Why does wellbeing resonate in everything you do?
I grew up with a holistic childhood, mum is a full blown hippy! She instilled in us to reduce, reuse and recycle, eat from the backyard and have minimal impact on the earth. We had no processed foods, no microwave and no sugar in the house. I was really active growing up, both a gymnast and an athlete. I saw the effects of what I was putting in and getting out from an energy perspective, and learnt to perform at my best, I needed the right foods and nutrients.
At just 14 I was approached for my first modelling gig – the old shopping centre story, so cliche! I won a modelling competition at Fountain Gate Shopping Centre. It was fun, I enjoyed winning but didn’t take it very seriously. Then I signed with my first agency.
You have a reputation for ‘breaking the mould’ when it comes to the cut-throat modelling industry. What drove you to make a change?
I grew up with the harsh realities of the industry. At 15 my first agent asked me to shave my hip bones to reduce my hip measurement. Luckily I had a really supportive family, mum said ‘absolutely no way’. I left the agent. Those sorts of conversations were a part of life, when I came out the other side I saw how detrimental it was. I thought, if I can change just one girl’s experience in the industry, I would love to.
After a decade-long international modelling career, I approached WINK’s CEO Taryn Williams in Sydney to start a Melbourne division. Taryn said ‘go for it!’. I did, and worked around the clock.
My approach was with a healthy attitude, which I knew could be the way. Success in the industry is more about confidence and beauty than being a certain sample size. We offer models across the board and clients love the diversity. Modelling has the ability to be inclusive, it started at size and shape and has moved to age and ability inclusivity which is really exciting.
You claim brains is more important than beauty in the industry, why?
With modelling, I teach our 800 models that beauty is one aspect. The models who get the most work treat it like a job. It’s a skill you need to learn properly; how to dress and pose, be polite and punctual, like any job.
To go to the next level in business, you can add value to yourself by upskilling. I’m a huge fan of learning, I read business books and do short courses in my spare time. Presenting a bigger skill set has really benefited me. Learn as much as you can and away from what’s expected. If it’s in your own time and something you’re passionate about, it speaks volumes about your work ethic.
When did you come up with the idea for Golden Grind, how did you bring it to life?
We had a family cafe and were serving turmeric lattes. We always wanted that lightbulb moment that everyone dreams of. We were selling almost as many turmeric lattes as coffees. They were a bit of a pain to mix as turmeric stains your hands and the kitchen. We did some research and noticed you couldn’t buy the blend globally, so we decided to make our own. We knew people in the industry who would use our pre-packaged blend and it took off really quickly.
We realised we should give it a brand, a logo, an Instagram page! From idea to market it was only three months. We were lucky that turmeric was really big in media at the time, and we were the only company in Australia and one of two globally that had launched. We were thrust into the media, which made it very easy.
That’s an incredible start-up story, what were your challenges?
We had the fame and glory and the stockists, then came the problems around the 12-month mark, mainly cash flow. We grew our portfolio rapidly from one to 11 products. It was more expensive than expected, we were ignorant when we started. The business had paid for itself but at that point we needed investment.
We employed a business coach to help with finance and investment decisions. A family member invested without interest. We hustled even harder which was fatiguing after 12-months of hard work. I was running WINK at the same time, so I learnt a lot and didn’t get much sleep!
What does it take to make a family business work?
Working with Taryn at WINK before Golden Grind was great because I learnt to compromise and not carry ‘baggage’, to accept differences and move on. At Golden Grind we compromise daily; it’s lucky we’re three because there’s always a ruling decision! We all respect each other which comes from being a family. We care more about each other than any product or business issue.
One challenge of running a family business is the separation of work and life, creating boundaries was really important. We had a physical boundary that was left at the door. We had the ‘work room’ where we’d have screaming matches and tears, then walk out and say ‘what’s for dinner?’
We addressed our strengths and shadows (not weaknesses!) early on. We used that to define our roles as head of a particular department and were all accountable. This helped us work together, so I wasn’t upset at my brother-in-law, but the ‘Head of Sales’, if he was behind on something, this really helped create a division between family and business.
In a cluttered market of superfoods, what does it take to achieve cut-through?
We started with our online store which had zero barrier to entry. Our second customer was from Belgium and we thought, ‘the power of the internet!’. We used that to dictate our markets, we’re now in the UK, US, New Zealand and Asia.
Being authentic has been really important as competition is big. We had around 20 copycats, some were our friends (ex-friends). Within three months, we saw newcomers with the same packaging, very similar branding or products, even someone saying he was Golden Grind! They don’t exist anymore.
Recently a few retailers and big coffee brands have come to us, Selfridges is one. They said they liked what we stand for and are now our exclusive UK retailer – pinch me moments!
Where do you do your manufacturing for Golden Grind?
We do it all in Melbourne, but our Turmeric comes from India because there’s no commercial supply here. It’s expensive, but it’s important to us to support our local economy. We like to see and feel as much as we can. We’ve been to India a few times to make sure the farmers are fair trade and organic, we insist on talking to them. We’re as sustainable and ethical as possible, we’re eco-warriors at heart!
Entrepreneurial journeys can be tough, financially and emotionally. What is your advice to entrepreneurs on how to stay motivated and connected?
Karl Marx has a quote I really like, “surround yourself with people who make you happy”. Being around negative people can affect my work ethic, mood and drive. If people are inspirational and positive it reflects on me, I’m energised and want to do more. I’m really cautious of who I surround myself with.
Another one is reminding myself that with mistakes there is a silver lining. Instead of getting down I look at it as a learning. I ask myself will this matter in 5 years? Usually it won’t matter in one year, let alone five, there’s bigger fish to fry.
Who do you look up to in or outside of your industry? Have you had mentors?
Taryn at WINK is a huge inspiration and mentor. Two years ago she said ‘do you want to take over?’, she gave me ownership to run it. Without that support I wouldn’t be where I am today. She had the most grit and resilience I’ve ever seen in a person, second to my mum.
I’m also inspired by other Aussie brands doing cool things, if they can do it, I can! Brands harnessing the power of social media is awesome. Learning from my friends’ startup journeys is also really helpful.
What’s next for you Sage?
Personally: a holiday! The first in a long time, I’m off to Europe for three weeks. It’s half business now as I’m going to London, but it’s my first in a number of years. For Golden Grind: international markets, they’re going from strength to strength, we’re selling more in the US after two months than we’ve sold in Australia in two years (with 1000 stores here). At WINK: giving back. Imparting more wisdom onto the younger girls through sharing my experience, to help them with their career paths.
Connect with Sage Greenwood.
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Photography supplied by WINK Models.