People who have heard of LuLaRoe have usually come across him for one of two reasons. Either someone they know tried to sell them the company’s stretch leggings and fit and flare dresses on Facebook, or they saw some of the cheery coverage of LuLaRoe’s very public disintegration as a brand. : lawsuits, bankruptcies filed by her vendors, boxes of seemingly moldy clothes shipped to vendors who smelled, in a woman’s description, like a “dead fart.” (Leggings! Never not controversial!) Much of LuLaRich, a new four-part Amazon series exploring the rise and fall of the business, focuses on its alleged aspects of mismanagement and manipulation, grouping it together with some of the most glowing docuseries of years past. No one at LuLaRoe seems to have found themselves marking the area above the groin or poisoning an Oregon salad bar with salmonella. But in one scene, a former LuLaRoe salesperson remembers a company meeting where everyone was gathered, like her, wearing shiny patterned leggings and a wide lipstick smile. “I remember looking around and saying to myself, We all look alike, she tells the camera. “I was like, Oh my God, I’m in a cult.“
As i watched LuLaRich, however, I found it less interesting as a voyeuristic look at how a controversial business works, and more appealing as an accusation of corporate structural failure. LuLaRoe was a multi-level marketing company that promised people, mostly women, that they could make money in their own homes just by selling clothes. Like most MLMs, it relied on two things. The former was an aura of relentless positivity, as Amanda Montell detailed in her book. Worship earlier this year, MLMs are rolling out the language the same way nefarious faith groups and cult brands do, bombarding new hires with love, suppressing negative thoughts or statements, and hosting group events. designed to keep participants in a high state of arousal so that they are more responsive to the suggestion.
The second was something that the founders of LuLaRoe – a married couple named Mark and DeAnne Stidham – saw (and exploited) even though it is mostly ignored in discussions of the US labor market. Despite all of LuLaRoe’s many flaws and questionable practices, he was able to see what his followers wanted. MLMs, in part, capitalize on the near-universal desire of working parents to truly manage a work-life balance: participate in the economy and achieve accomplishments for themselves while spending meaningful time with their children. “I was just told that I could be home with my kids, that I could make some money, and that I love clothes,” a LuLaRoe salesperson told the directors. “This [was] a dream come true. “Mark Stidham, a bearded character who exudes smug paternalism, says something in the show that I have barely stopped thinking about since.” If you want to create incredible wealth, identify an underutilized resource “, He explains.” And you know what? There is an underutilized resource of stay-at-home moms. As infuriating as it may be to admit it, given what happened next, he’s not wrong.
LuLaRich, realized by Fraud Fyre‘s Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, is narrowly focused and chronological, to the point of obscuring some important and larger aspects of the story. DeAnne, a take on styled blonde hair and trendy jewelry, explains how she got the idea for the business in 2012 after selling long skirts to her friends. “I’m not one to do numbers,” she said half-heartedly, “but I know full well what’s in that bank account. The company, named after three of its grandchildren (Lucy, Lola and Monroe) was able to capitalize on a series of factors it could never have foreseen: social media, the launch of Facebook Live (which has become a valuable selling tool for LuLaRoe sellers), and the rise of athleisure. DeAnne promoted the business as an empowerment tool for women, especially women with children. She channeled the language of #bossbabe feminism to sell the idea that mothers could be successful as entrepreneurs and breadwinners, while simultaneously asserting that their family duties were paramount. On LuLaRoe’s website, the company still advertises itself as offering “the freedom and flexibility that comes with starting your own business at your own pace.” It creates time to spend with your family, which DeAnne once wanted for herself! “
The series uses handy triangle diagrams to explain the structure of MLMs, which differ from pyramid schemes only in that a product is sold: cut) and kept all the profits they made when selling items, usually to friends and family. But the real money came from recruiting other vendors, who in turn recruited their own teams under them, and so on. From 2014 to 2016, LuLaRoe grew from 500 individual “retail consultants” to 60,000 in the United States. For each person recruited by a consultant, he would get a bonus and a share of all his future sales. At its peak, the company had billions of dollars in retail orders per year. Very few women who had managed to recruit substantial teams below them would have made $ 50,000 per month just as a bonus. Ambitious consultants turned their children’s bedrooms into makeshift LuLaRoe boutiques and sold products to growing audiences on Facebook Live, in a rambling approximation of QVC. Meanwhile, the company has reportedly encouraged consultants to post their newfound wealth and success on social media, to better attract even more women to this supposed community of infallible winners. (According to the series, the bottom 70 percent of LuLaRoe’s sales base made $ 0 bonus in 2016.)
Inevitably, LuLaRoe’s explosive growth became a problem. The quality of the product sent to sellers began to suffer. Some designers, who were said to have been tasked with creating 100 original prints a day, have been accused of copying works of art found online; others didn’t think through how the prints would translate when worn, leading to viral failures. (See: Pisa Penis and Burger Crotch Leggings.) The company was shipping so many products that, as the series illustrates, its quality control failed and boxes of leggings were left out in the rain because it failed. there was simply nowhere else to go. – hence the musty smell. LuLaRich notes that the company has also changed its bonus structure to reduce rewards for recruiting, which the show says was done to avoid investigations into its business practices (a speculation the company has denied) and to dispel criticism that it was essentially a pyramid scheme. While LuLaRoe’s brand was mocked on the internet, people who had paid thousands of dollars to buy into the company struggled to sell faulty, sometimes even toxic, products. In 2019, more than 100 had filed for bankruptcy. (A disclaimer since posted on the company’s website points out that no salesperson has a guaranteed income, and profits instead come from an individual’s hard work, as well as market conditions.)
LuLaRich offers these details without stopping to examine how LuLaRoe’s Promise may have attracted so many budding sellers, or even why the brand has become so popular in the first place. The company was successful in selling women’s clothing that they could afford, wanted to wear and in which they felt good. In contrast, Lululemon, another cult brand, has made headlines in the past for its $ 130 leggings and sales practices. The series alleges that DeAnne became obsessed with the weight of her top performing and most visible consultants, even encouraging them to undergo gastric bypass surgery. But he doesn’t note that unlike most mainstream clothing brands, LuLaRoe caters to women of all shapes and sizes, or that its high-waisted, supportive leggings were once particularly popular among people whose bodies had been altered by childbirth. Or that her colorful clothes can be layered by women whose faith requires their clothes to be modest.
Likewise, the series addresses the lack of diversity within the company (as more generally applies to direct sales: 75% of Americans involved in 2020 were women and 87% were white), but does not explain no more why. Directors also note that both Stidhams are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that their religious beliefs and patriarchal values permeated the company, but they do not explain that LDS members are involved in disproportionately in MLMs (over 100 of these companies were founded in Utah), or that multi-level marketing tends to target specific demographics colloquially known as the “three M’s”: Moms, Mormons and military wives. For LDS women, who are encouraged to stay home and devote themselves to their families, MLMs can seem like an opportunity to contribute financially without sacrificing time with their children. (Mission work, in particular, can also prepare women for the marketing aspect of direct selling and the evangelism needed to move up the ranks.)
LuLaRoe has filled a gap in the market in more than one way. That doesn’t excuse some of the claims made by the show: that the company advised people to sell breast milk to save on start-up costs, or that it has hidden billions of dollars in profits in shell companies. But it does suggest that the U.S. economy is failing on many fronts to provide parents with what they want and need. This fact goes way beyond the three M’s, and beyond one in five American parents who care for children full-time. But to focus closely on this demographic for now, what is LuLaRich unintentionally is that there are hundreds of thousands of stay-at-home parents beyond the three M’s who want to work but need the flexibility and tools to frame the way they do it.
Some countries grant allowances to families; some provide exceptional state-funded child care so parents can work. The United States does neither, and the cost of child care has risen 2,000% over the past four decades, which is certainly why so many organized, entrepreneurial and creative people end up peddling fake weight loss shakes and holiday-themed tunics. to try to make ends meet. The pandemic was an opportunity to rethink the logistics of work: schedules, places, framework, expectations. But less discussed is the question of how legitimate businesses might take advantage of a space that fraudulent MLMs have long dominated: the full economic potential of parents.