At first look, it’s unclear whether or not the auditorium — crammed with rows of theater-style seating damaged up by extensive aisles that result in what seems to be both a stage or an altar — is a spot of worship or the most important obtainable convention room on the native Marriott. Excluding a child, the viewers is a sea of white girls carrying brightly coloured and in some circumstances closely patterned articles of clothes.
Some are standing up at their seats. Others have moved into the aisles. Fairly a number of have made it up onto the stage. Most are dancing to *NSYNC’s “I Need You Again.”
However this isn’t some kind of spiritual ceremony, or all of the chaperones of a junior excessive mixer enthusiastically shaking it to a track they really acknowledge: It’s an occasion for gross sales reps working for LuLaRoe, a multi-level advertising (MLM) attire firm that’s the main target of LuLaRich, a brand new docuseries at the moment streaming on Amazon Prime.
Over 4, 45-minute installments, co-directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason expose the darkish aspect of the model recognized for colourful leggings obtainable in a dizzying array of prints, providing a glimpse into what went on behind the scenes when the corporate, based in 2012, started increasing at an unbelievable — and unsustainable — tempo. And primarily based the testimony of a number of individuals within the collection, in addition to one skilled Rolling Stone consulted, the way in which LuLaRoe interacts with previous, present, and potential members makes the group seem to be no atypical MLM (suppose: Mary Kay, Tupperware) however one thing dangerously near a cult.
“One of many universals with harmful mind-control teams, together with MLMs, is the misleading recruiting,” says Steven Hassan, Ph.D., founding father of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, which offers intervention and restoration providers for present and former members of cults. “Folks can’t present knowledgeable consent, and so they’re being lied to a few alternative ways: They’re being outright lied to about how a lot cash the individual’s making who’s recruiting them, very important data is withheld, and data can be distorted to make it appear extra palatable.”
After founding LuLaRoe, husband-and-wife duo Mark and DeAnne Stidham swiftly amassed a fortune promoting girls two issues: leggings and lies. At LuLaRoe’s peak in 2016, the corporate reported gross sales of practically $2 billion and had near 80,000 unbiased retailers pushing their merchandise, Vox reports. However just like the clothes they offered, it didn’t take lengthy for his or her empire to start out unraveling on the seams.
All through 2017, LuLaRoe’s extensive community of gross sales reps flagged problems together with stale stock that was tough to unload, a misogynistic firm tradition, and the corporate’s abrupt reversal of their refund policy. An assortment of lawsuits quickly adopted, together with complaints of copyright infringement and low-quality products, in addition to a class-action lawsuit filed in California accusing the purveyor of stretchy clothes in wacky prints of being a pyramid scheme.
In 2019, Washington state Lawyer Normal Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against LuLaRoe on the grounds that it was working a pyramid scheme that left most of the firm’s gross sales reps with unsold stock and big debt. The matter was settled out of court docket in February 2021, when it was introduced that the corporate would pay $4.75 million to resolve the lawsuit — $4 million of which might go to Washingtonians who misplaced cash as the results of their misleading enterprise practices and false guarantees, Ferguson explained in a statement earlier this 12 months.
On the subject of MLMs, there’s a lot to unpack — from enterprise fashions designed to be simply completely different sufficient from pyramid schemes that they’re legally in a position to function, to the pressure they place on relationships with household and buddies whose inboxes turn out to be flooded with invites to Fb Stay events the place their product-pimping family members reveal the most recent merchandise that’s changed their life. For anybody who will get sucked into these schemes, says Hassan, it’s clear there’s some component of thoughts management concerned. One former LuLaRoe member goes additional within the collection, recalling the second a realization hit her: “Oh my god, we’re in a cult.”
As LuLaRich shortly establishes, Mark and DeAnne Stidham are LuLaRoe. Precariously perched on the very high of the pyramid, the couple make the foundations and set the tone for firm tradition; although, at this level, they’ve little to do with its day-to-day operations. That’s the place their youngsters are available in.
When Mark and DeAnne bought married in 1998, they mixed their 11 organic and adopted kids from their earlier marriages into one household, Brady Bunch-style. From there, the religious Mormons and residents of Corona, California, adopted two extra boys and a lady, bringing them to a complete of 14 kids — two of whom at the moment are married to one another: a reality Mark and DeAnne excitedly share within the documentary (earlier than instantly clarifying that the couple usually are not biologically associated, nor did they develop up underneath the identical roof).
So when LuLaRoe actually began taking off, the Stidhams — neither of whom had beforehand managed or operated an organization of this measurement — did what any dad and mom overwhelmed by their new skilled duties would do: put in a number of of their (for essentially the most half equally inexperienced) kids in management roles. And the Stidhams’ deal with the household unit didn’t finish there: They commonly reminded LuLaRoe gross sales reps that they had been a part of their household, too.
However not all households are practical. Some may be dangerous — particularly when these within the highest-ranking positions manipulate different members for their very own achieve, and set up themselves as untouchable, infallible leaders who’re owed obedience. This is only one instance of “malignant narcissism,” a attribute generally related to leaders of harmful mind-control teams.
Although the docuseries gives numerous illustrations of the Stidhams partaking in excessive and narcissistic habits, two particularly stand out. The primary happens when Mark is addressing the gang at an organization occasion, and within the means of describing his personal struggles, compares himself to Joseph Smith, the founding father of Mormonism — noting that they had been equally misunderstood.
Then there’s the truth that Mark and DeAnne agreed to take part within the docuseries in any respect — sitting for hours of interviews, assured that they might come out the opposite aspect smelling like roses. As Mark tells the interviewers roughly six minutes into the primary episode, they’re there to set the report straight: “We’re storytellers — that’s how the enterprise grew. And so it’s thrilling to have any individual right here that’s taken with the entire story, and a possibility to share that.” The Stidhams look like completely satisfied that their contribution to the narrative may solely end in them rising as heroes. And to many members of their LuLaRoe household, they’re.
“Mark and DeAnne make you are feeling particular while you’re with them — the way in which a star makes you are feeling,” a advisor nonetheless with the corporate explains within the collection. Connecting with LuLaRoe members by means of video messages, live-streamed pep talks, and on the firm’s lavish in-person occasions, the Stidhams, DeAnne particularly, make individuals really feel seen and valued — one thing that didn’t go unnoticed in a company designed to enchantment to stay-at-home mothers.
Although loads of manufacturers have used pretend feminism to promote merchandise, LuLaRoe’s “girls’s empowerment” recruitment technique isn’t solely disingenuous — it’s damaging. Their strategy to attracting new members is predicated on Mark’s principle of economic success, which he shares within the documentary: “If you wish to create unimaginable wealth, determine an underutilized useful resource. And there’s an underutilized useful resource of stay-at-home mothers.”
Then it’s time to faucet into (or create) these mother-money-makers’ insecurities, getting them to query their worth to society and their very own households. The previous consultants featured in LuLaRich say that the corporate’s messaging was clear: It’s possible you’ll not at the moment be dwelling as much as your fullest potential, however in the event you’re keen to place within the time, vitality, effort, and cash to construct a enterprise with LuLaRoe, it would end in a large monetary payout. And that’s not all: Being a #BossBabe (certainly one of a number of cringeworthy hashtags seen in members’ social media posts and referenced by former gross sales reps all through the docuseries) would lastly give mothers the possibility, in DeAnne’s phrases, “to have the ability to give one thing to their households, [and] give again to their husband.”
Onboarding prices ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 had been financially out of attain for a lot of potential LuLaRoe consultants, however that was spun as a small value to pay for the independence and status of proudly owning your personal enterprise, and having the ability to do it whereas staying residence along with your youngsters. In accordance with a number of former gross sales reps and full-time workers interviewed within the collection, firm management inspired girls to do no matter it took to get the cash they wanted to show their dream right into a actuality — together with opening new bank cards, taking out loans, even promoting their breast milk. (When a LuLaRich producer asks the Stidhams about that final allegation, Mark calls the claims “udderly ridiculous” with a snicker, whereas DeAnne assumes the position of vaudeville sidekick, pointing at her husband to make sure his wit is on show.)
Not solely does LuLaRoe promote the dream of “having all of it,” it does so underneath the guise of “girls empowering girls.” However harnessing woman energy within the context of an MLM — the place recruiting new members is the quickest (and sometimes solely) method to maintain your head above water financially, continuously perpetuating a predatory cycle — is downright sinister. When occasions get powerful, as they inevitably will, LuLaRoe reminds its consultants that they’ve the assist of a enjoyable, vibrant neighborhood of girls who’ve confronted the identical obstacles — an unbreakable sisterhood. That is additionally a part of the corporate’s recruitment technique: LuLaRoe social media posts encourage girls who need to change their lives to “be part of the motion.”
“The factor about undue affect, is to know the influencee and the influencer,” Hassan says. “And the extra profitable cults will modify their recruitment and indoctrination to suit their goal.”
If this faux-feminism technique sounds acquainted, he provides, it’s as a result of we’ve seen one other model of it not too long ago: within the recruitment strategies of NXIVM, a cult that engaged in human trafficking whereas posing as a self-help MLM. “The rap that was getting used on the ladies was that they’re on this girls’s empowerment group, and within the meantime, they’re saying they’re slaves, and can do no matter they’re informed,” Hassan says. “For me, that’s a extremely dramatic instance of this factor the place you’re labeling it one factor that may be very optimistic and enticing, however the behaviour is doing the alternative, which, in [the NXIVM] case, was enslaving individuals.”
In the course of the speedy progress of LuLaRoe, the Stidhams (DeAnne particularly) offered themselves because the benevolent dad and mom of a continuously rising household, and didn’t hesitate to offer their member-children useful pointers for achievement, in keeping with a number of former reps featured in LuLaRich. These included weighing in on what the consultants ought to put on (completely LuLaRoe, clearly), how they need to do their hair and make-up (trick query: they shouldn’t — that’s a job for professionals), how a lot they need to weigh (fuck off), and what their marriage ought to seem like (sorry, women — hope you weren’t followers of autonomy!).
Even because the “recommendation” grew to become more and more excessive — like recommending gastric sleeve surgical procedure carried out in Tijuana — members continued to comply with it dutifully. “You had been so immersed…that if [DeAnne] informed me to leap off a cliff, I in all probability would have,” a former LuLaRoe advisor says within the collection.
By all of it, the Stidhams continued to remind LuLaRoe consultants of the great quantities of freedom and private selection they supposedly had with the corporate. One of the best illustration of this comes courtesy of the MLM’s signature leggings. They’re obtainable in seemingly infinite colours, prints, and patterns — a few of that are extremely unique — giving members the phantasm that the spandex protecting their legs was a mark of their individuality, when, on the finish of the day, everybody within the room was carrying the identical pair of stretchy pants (which can or might not characteristic a cheeseburger vagina.)
Hassan says this herd mindset is widespread in cults. “As human beings, we’re very influenced by authority figures we predict are legit, and by individuals we determine with,” he explains. “So the social conformity piece is a robust psychological precept that [MLMs] are interesting to. It’s the opposite individuals within the cult which can be creating the peer group. And other people need to slot in, in order that they’re going to be copying and mirroring one another — whereas nonetheless being informed that they’re being distinctive.”
Like all manipulative leaders value their salt, Mark and DeAnne Stidham weren’t content material influencing simply some facets of LuLaRoe members’ lives — in keeping with the docuseries, they needed complete management, to the purpose the place their consultants had been solely financially depending on the corporate.
As former gross sales reps clarify, as soon as they’d a profitable enterprise up and operating, the corporate made it clear that their subsequent purpose ought to be “retiring” their husbands. That’s not a euphemism for eliminating them so the ladies may run off to kind a matriarchal society the place all waistbands are elastic. The concept, on the floor, is to supply your husband with the monetary freedom to stop his job, so he can keep at residence and enable you develop your enterprise. What it actually means is that girls ought to step again from the enterprise they labored so arduous to construct, and relinquish all management to their husbands.
At that stage, the family could be solely depending on LuLaRoe as its sole supply of revenue, doubtless being in such excessive debt that strolling away wasn’t a risk. That is strikingly much like the cult-leader tactic of constructing members so reliant on the group that they imagine they don’t have any different viable choices. And whereas misleading mind-control teams are higher recognized for forcing members to chop ties with family members, some conditions name for a distinct strategy. “It’s a standard sample to get members who’re recruited right into a cult to control their household, their buddies, strain them to affix, deceive them, and manipulate them in any means, form, or kind,” Hassan explains.
This brings us to a different traditional cult-like coverage the Stidhams wholeheartedly endorse: that girls ought to be submissive to males. And when LuLaRoe consultants discovered it difficult to adapt to this outdated patriarchal household construction, DeAnne was poised and able to stroll them by means of it, in keeping with a number of former reps featured within the documentary. First, there are fundamentals, in any other case often known as “The 4 Recommended Don’ts” of interacting along with your husband: Don’t discuss to him “man to man,” don’t “mom” him, don’t have “higher concepts” than his, and don’t admire different males’s qualities. (These helpful ideas make a cameo within the docuseries in what seems to be a PowerPoint slide — although it’s unclear whether or not the graphic on the display was created for LuLaRich, or certainly one of DeAnne’s displays.)
For individuals who nonetheless weren’t absolutely on board with their new submissive position of their marriage, DeAnne had some studying suggestions; particularly, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, in addition to The Secret Power of Femininity: The Art of Attracting, Winning, and Keeping the Right Man for You — a 1969 information for younger girls, written by Maurine and Elbert Startup — in any other case often known as DeAnne’s dad and mom (and sure, her authentic final title was Startup).
Like her dad and mom, DeAnne had no scarcity of recommendation for girls confused about their place in society and their marriage, in keeping with the previous LuLaRoe consultants interviewed within the docuseries. This included displaying your husband “The Three Magic As” of appreciation, acceptance, and admiration; and understanding that “girls may be robust, however there’s a time to let him be your hero.” DeAnne clarified that there’s one thing in it for the women, too: “All it’s important to do as a girl is simply get in your knees for 5 minutes a day and please your husband, after which your husband will purchase you no matter you need,” a former LuLaRoe advisor remembers DeAnne telling her.
However being the chief of a multibillion-dollar life-destroying MLM does have its ups and downs. That is particularly the case when these within the decrease ranges of the pyramid start to voice grievances: like when LuLaRoe gross sales reps began receiving shipments of subpar leggings, together with ones that arrived soaking moist or moldy, filled with holes or tears, and/or with a stench one former advisor described as a “useless fart.”
As an alternative of providing help, the Stidhams took the place that nothing was unsuitable with the leggings, and that consultants could be held financially chargeable for any stock they obtained — with Mark going so far as to say in a video message to gross sales reps that LuLaRoe had “the best high quality management within the trade.”
The blatant gaslighting can be straight out of the cult playbook, in keeping with Hassan. “The purpose is to make the individual appear loopy as a way to benefit from them,” he says. “The best way I take a look at gaslighting-type methods, it’s actually about undermining an individual’s skill to suppose for themselves, by getting them to be much less assured about their experiences, ideas, emotions. It’s a state of confusion that mind-controllers like to create, inculcate, and exacerbate.”
Although LuLaRoe didn’t reply to Rolling Stone’s request for remark, the corporate posted a statement on their website on September ninth, the day earlier than LuLaRich premiered, saying that their “mission is and can proceed to be, centered round serving to girls everywhere in the world really feel lovely, assured, and worthy of the desires they got down to obtain.”
And whereas it doesn’t instantly tackle LuLaRich or any allegations made by former consultants, the corporate says that its “enterprise mannequin has empowered tens of 1000’s of Unbiased Style Retailers to construct their very own companies,” including that their success is influenced by their “particular person capability, enterprise expertise, market situations, experience, and motivation.” And, that “as with every enterprise, outcomes will differ.”
https://www.rollingstone.com/tradition/culture-features/lularich-docuseries-lularoe-mlm-cult-1228224/ | ‘LuLaRich’ Docuseries Exhibits How Attire Firm Operates Like a Cult