People who have heard of LuLaRoe have usually come across it for one of two reasons. Either someone they know tried to sell them the company’s stretchy leggings and bodycon dresses on Facebook, or they saw some of the cheery coverage of the very public collapse of LuLaRoe as a brand: the lawsuits, the bankruptcies of the company’s salespeople , the boxes of apparently moldy clothes delivered to sellers who, after a woman’s description, smelled like a “dead fart”. (Leggings! Never uncontroversial!) Much of LuLaRich, a new four-part Amazon series that explores the rise and fall of the company, focuses on its alleged mismanagement and manipulative aspects, grouping it with some of the zippier documentaries from years past . Nobody at LuLaRoe seems to have caught themselves branding the area above the bar or poisoning a salad bar in Oregon with salmonella. But in one scene, a former LuLaRoe salesman remembers a company meeting where everyone wore brightly patterned leggings like her and a big smile with lipstick. “I remember looking around and saying: We all look the same,” she says into the camera. “I thought to myself: Oh my god, I’m in a sect.”
When I saw LuLaRich, however, I found it less interesting as a voyeuristic glimpse into the work of a controversial company, but more alluring as an indictment of structural social failure. LuLaRoe was a multilevel marketing company that promised people – mostly women – that they could make money from their own homes simply by selling clothes. Like most MLMs, it relied on two things. The first was an aura of relentless positivity – as Amanda Montell described in her book Cultish earlier this year, MLMs use language in many of the same ways that nefarious beliefs and cult-like brands do, bombing new recruits with love bombs, suppressing negative thoughts or statements . , and organizing group events aimed at keeping participants in a state of high arousal so that they are more prone to suggestions.
The second was something that the founders of LuLaRoe – a married couple named Mark and DeAnne Stidham – saw (and took advantage of), though it is mostly ignored in discussions about the American job market. Despite all of LuLaRoe’s multiple flaws and dubious practices, it could see what its followers wanted. MLMs partly use the almost universal desire of working parents to create a real work-life balance: to participate in the economy and achieve success for themselves while at the same time spending meaningful time with their children. “I was just told that I could be at home with my kids and make money and that I love clothes,” a LuLaRoe salesman tells the directors. “This [was] a dream comes true. “Mark Stidham, a bearded character who exudes smug paternalism, says something on the series that I have hardly stopped talking about since.” If you want to create incredible wealth, identify an underutilized resource, “explains he. “And you know what? There’s an underutilized resource by mothers who stay home. ”As annoying as it is to admit it, considering what happened next, it’s not wrong.
LuLaRich, directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason of Fyre Fraud, is tightly focused and chronological, obscuring some significant, broader aspects of the story. A vision of coiffed blonde hair and statement jewelry, DeAnne explains how she came up with the idea for the store in 2012 after selling maxi skirts to her friends. “I’m not a numbers person,” she says unconvincingly, “but damn it, I know what’s in that bank account.” The company, named after three of her grandchildren (Lucy, Lola and Monroe), was able to come from a number of factors Capitalizing on it never could have predicted: social media, the advent of Facebook Live (which became a valuable selling tool for LuLaRoe providers), and the rise of athleisure. DeAnne promoted the company as an empowerment tool for women, especially women with children. She channeled the #bossbabe feminism language to sell the idea that mothers could thrive as entrepreneurs and breadwinners while claiming that their family responsibilities were paramount. On the LuLaRoe website, the company still presents itself as “the freedom and flexibility that comes with building your own business at your own pace. That creates the time you can spend with your family, exactly what DeAnne once wanted! “
The series uses handy triangle charts to explain the structure of MLMs, which differs from pyramid schemes only in that a product is sold: Consultants said they bought $ 5,000 or $ 10,000 starter kits of LuLaRoe clothing at cost ( the price has been cutting since then) and kept any profits they made from selling items, usually to friends and family. But the real money came from recruiting other vendors, who in turn recruited their own teams from among them, and so on. From 2014 to 2016, LuLaRoe grew from 500 individual “retail consultants” to 60,000 in the United States. For every person a consultant has recruited, they receive a bonus and a reduction in their total future sales. At the height of the business, the company recorded billions in retail orders annually. A few women who managed to recruit significant teams among them reportedly made $ 50,000 a month in bonuses alone. Ambitious consultants turned their nurseries into makeshift LuLaRoe boutiques and sold products to a growing audience on Facebook Live, in a questionable approach to QVC. Meanwhile, the company reportedly encouraged consultants to showcase their newfound wealth and success on social media – all the better to draw even more women into this supposed community of surefire winners. (According to the series, the bottom 70 percent of LuLaRoe’s sales base was making $ 0 in bonuses in 2016.)
LuLaRoe’s explosive growth inevitably became a problem. The quality of the product sent to the sellers began to suffer. Some designers, who were reportedly tasked with producing 100 original prints a day, were accused of copying art they found online; others didn’t think about how prints would carry over when worn, which led to some viral bugs. (See: Pisa penis leggings and hamburgers in the crotch.) The company shipped so many products that, as the series shows, quality control failed and boxes of leggings stood outside in the rain because they simply had nowhere else to go – hence the smell of mold. LuLaRich notes that the company has also changed its bonus structure to reduce rewards for hiring, which the series said was done to fend off investigations into its business practices (a speculation the company has denied) and to dispel criticism, that it was essentially a pyramid plan. With the LuLaRoe brand mocked on the internet, the people who paid thousands of dollars to buy into the company struggled to sell faulty, sometimes even toxic, products. By 2019, more than 100 had filed for bankruptcy. (A disclaimer that has since been posted on the company’s website emphasizes that no seller has guaranteed income and that profits come instead from a person’s hard work as well as market conditions.)
LuLaRich offers these details without thinking about how the LuLaRoe promise attracted so many would-be vendors or why the brand became so popular in the first place. The company managed to sell women’s clothing that they could afford, that they wanted to wear, and that they felt comfortable in. In contrast, another iconic brand, Lululemon, made headlines for its $ 130 leggings and murky sales practices in the past. The series claims that DeAnne was fixated on the weight of her most successful and visible advisors and even encouraged her to undergo gastric bypass surgery. However, there is no suggestion that, unlike most mainstream clothing brands, LuLaRoe caters to women of all shapes and sizes, or that its high-waisted, supportive leggings were once especially popular with people whose bodies were physically transformed by childbirth. Or that the colorful robes can be laid on top of each other by women whose beliefs require modest clothing.
Similarly, the series touches on the lack of diversity within the company (which is generally true of direct selling: 75 percent of Americans involved in 2020 were women and 87 percent were white) but fails to elaborate on why. The directors also note that both Stidhams are Latter-day Saints Church of Jesus Christ and that their religious beliefs and patriarchal values have permeated the company, but do not state that LDS members are disproportionately involved in MLMs (over 100%) such companies were founded in Utah) or that multilevel marketing tends to target specific demographics known colloquially as “the three Ms”: mothers, Mormons, and military women. For LDS women who are encouraged to stay home and devote themselves to their families, MLMs seemingly can provide an opportunity to contribute financially without sacrificing time with their children. (Missionary work, in particular, can also prepare women for the marketing aspect of direct selling and the evangelism required for ascension.)
LuLaRoe filled a niche in the market in several ways. That doesn’t excuse some of the series’ allegations: the company advised people to sell breast milk to save startup costs, or that it hid billions in profits in mailbox companies. But it suggests that the American economy is failing on many fronts to provide parents with what they want and need. This fact goes well beyond the three Ms and that of five American parents who care for their children all day. But to focus closely on this demographics for now, what LuLaRich inadvertently makes clear is that besides the three women there are hundreds of thousands of home parents who want to work but need the flexibility and tools to organize their jobs .
Some countries offer grants to families; some offer exceptional government-funded childcare facilities for parents to work. The U.S. doesn’t do both, and childcare costs have increased 2,000 percent over the past four decades, which is certainly a factor in why so many organized, entrepreneurial, and creative people end up with fake weight loss shakes and tunic tops With vacation motifs selling, try to make ends meet. The pandemic was an opportunity to rethink work logistics: the hours, the places, the framework, the expectations. Less discussed, however, is how legitimate businesses can leverage a space that fraudulent MLMs have long dominated: the full economic potential of parents.