Hey girl, I was just looking at your page and I think you’re sooo cute!! Do you want to be a #bossbabe? What do you think about a business opportunity where you can work from home part-time for a full-time salary? All you need is a phone and the drive to succeed!! Do you want to meet for coffee next week to discuss this life-changing opportunity?
You’ve probably received a message like this before from a random high school acquaintance on Facebook. If you haven’t (jealous), you might be intrigued by this message, but it’s likely a part of an MLM. Though MLMs promise unlimited earning potential, 99% of MLM recruits never earn a dime or lose money in the process. One of the most infamous MLMs is LuLaRoe, which was the subject of the recent Amazon Prime Video docuseries, LuLaRich.
After watching how quickly LuLaRoe rose and fell, it’s only natural for the viewer to try to figure out what went wrong. Was it capitalism? Was it patriarchy? Was it the hideous prints?
LuLaRoe’s Predatory Marketing Strategy
LuLaRoe and many MLMs have been accused of being pyramid schemes, and this is because some of them emphasize recruiting over sales. Not all MLMs are bad. Some have great products and if a woman wants to make some extra money selling products they love, why not? But as mentioned before, 99% of MLM recruits never earn a dime or lose money in the process. Casey Bond of Money.com writes, “MLM companies like LuLaRoe (clothing), doTerra (essential oils), and Monat (haircare) recruit independent contractors — usually women — to sell products to the people they know. These distributors, who are provided lofty titles like ‘independent consultant’ or ‘wellness advocate,’ are often encouraged to recruit others to join their ‘downlines’ in order to earn commissions on their sales — and the more new people they bring in, the more money they stand to earn themselves.”
MLMs are legal but pyramid schemes are not. The problem is, to join LuLaRoe, many moms had to put down a whopping $5,000 to start their "business." So some women would take out loans in the hopes of gaining riches or helping their families. And granted, like in many MLMs, the women who started in the very beginning and hustled like crazy did end up making a lot of money. I'm talking six figures a month. MLMs aren't inherently evil, but the way that many make money takes advantage of those below them.
For example, in the LuLaRich documentary, many former distributors revealed that they focused more on recruiting than on sales. Incentives for recruiting were much higher than incentives for sales, which is why those on the top made so much money while others lower down competed for scraps, or even went into debt just trying to pay the startup fees. The company wasn't losing money, the women who spent money to buy $5,000 worth of product lost the money. So instead of incentivizing all the women to kill it in their business, the company just needed women to pay to join the MLM.
Is Capitalism To Blame?
The business started when DeAnne Stidham found success selling maxi skirts to her friends and family, an idea she expanded into LuLaRoe in 2013. The story wouldn’t be as interesting if DeAnne had opened her own boutique or started an Etsy store to sell her skirts, but she and her husband Mark turned the skirt business into a multi-level marketing company where customers could only buy from company distributors. LuLaRoe expanded into selling various types of women’s clothing, leggings being their signature product.
The company grew explosively, but the inherently deceitful roots of the company led to their downfall as distributors and customers alike began to see that the company was essentially a pyramid scheme.
Some critics weren’t content to simply blame MLM schemes for promising much more than they can deliver. Instead, they blame – you guessed it – the patriarchy and capitalism. Journalist Jill Filipovic (who appears in the documentary) writes, “To me, though, the most interesting part of the LuLaRoe story, and the story of so many MLMs, is the place where American capitalist and consumerist aspiration crashes into our stubborn enforcement of traditional gender roles: how we still fetishize full-time motherhood and consider it the end-all-be-all of female ambition, while also living in a nation obsessed with buying, selling, entrepreneurship, and the myth of the self-made (wo)man.”
Many women choose part-time work to supplement their income while remaining home with their kids.
To put Filipovic’s opinion in perspective, this is the same woman who came under fire for defending a man who thought his wife was lazy for wanting to give up her career to be a stay-at-home mother.
Filipovic argues that capitalism victimizes new and stay-at-home moms with the pressure to do it all, completely disregarding the truth that many women choose part-time or contract employment in order to supplement their income while remaining home with their kids. Many women like making money or having fun hobbies. There are so many ways to make money from home these days. Why judge them for wanting to?
The real problem lies in women bullying and shaming other women for their choices. It’s no longer socially acceptable to announce your goal to become a stay-at-home mom. That’s not very #girlboss. Instead of being allowed to enjoy a short period of their life fully focused on raising their children, many women feel pressured to have a successful “side hustle” to justify taking time out of their career.
The pressure to join these MLM schemes comes completely from other women, not their husbands.
Although Filipovic also asserts that the patriarchy’s obsession with keeping women in the home is what forces women to join MLM schemes in order to… what? Fulfill their lifelong dream of selling leggings? The pressure to join these schemes comes completely from other women, not their husbands. The desire to look good online, be successful financially at all costs, and embrace #girlboss culture is driven by women’s desire to fit in, not with men, but with other women. That's why many women in the LuLaRoe MLM would constantly post on Instagram about their designer bags and weight loss, made possible by the money they earned from LuLaRoe of course.
In general, many MLMs target new and stay-at-home moms with a siren’s song of easy money and quick advancement, but rarely follow through. Instead, they create a toxic atmosphere of women pressuring other women into joining their get-rich-quick scheme. It’s so important to look successful on social media that some women will practically do anything to fit in.
Stay-At-Home Moms Preying on Other Stay-At-Home Moms
One of the most shocking and disturbing problems LuLaRoe had was how they targeted new stay-at-home moms. LuLaRoe isn’t the first MLM to target new or stay-at-home moms, and Instagram and Facebook groups, where these women are looking for community, are the perfect place for distributors to find new recruits.
Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising, writes, "Moms with newborn babies want nothing more than to be able to stay home with their child, not have to go back into the workforce, and simultaneously make some good money. And that's the way a lot of these MLMs are marketed — that you can make full-time pay working part-time hours."
MLMs often target young moms by playing on their greatest insecurities.
MLMs often target young moms by playing on their greatest insecurities. One mom wrote, "MLMs prey on new mothers. They write to me saying things like, 'Hey, you finally had a baby! It's time to get back into shape right now, drink this coffee, and take these all-natural pills, and you'll lose 20 pounds!' I felt targeted by multiple people during my immediate postpartum phase. I especially love when they ask how you're feeling and immediately go into their spiel about their magic potion that will cure postpartum depression and anxiety!"
How Selling Leggings Can Be a Cult
If you watched the documentary, or have ever researched an MLM, you know there’s a cult-like atmosphere surrounding them. They use similar strategies to cults to market themselves and control their members. Rick Storkan, an Arizona-based attorney who studies MLMs, writes, “MLMs are extremely similar to cults. They recruit participants through the use of false and misleading information. Moreover, they psychologically manipulate their distributors through thought control.”
“If anything was positive in your life, it was always because of LuLaRoe.”
LuLaRoe keeps its employees in check through control and love-bombing. Amanda Montell, author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, shared her thoughts on LuLaRoe: "MLMs aim to take control of your clothes, your weight, your marriage, your social media posts, and how you spend every waking hour of your day. ‘If anything was positive in your life, it was always because of LuLaRoe,’ an ex-member says on LuLaRich. If you got a new haircut, a car, a house, a Kate Spade handbag, you were obligated to proclaim it was #BecauseOfLuLaRoe — lest DeAnne harasses you as a disappointing representative of the company and an ingrate. In practically every infamous cult, followers are conditioned to express nonstop gratitude to their leaders, enforcing the message they owe their lives to these charismatic figures, even if their lives objectively suck.”
In short, LuLaRoe psychologically manipulated their employees to believe that they owed all of their success to the company, reducing their sense of personal agency and making them afraid to leave. Some top women in the company even agreed to do a sketchy weight-loss surgery in Mexico because the owners thought it would make them look better. Although this doesn’t make LuLaRoe a cult in a traditional sense, the overlap should be a giant red flag to anyone considering signing up.
LuLaRich depicts the rise and fall of LuLaRoe, exposing how the company was corrupt and due to fail from the beginning because of their predatory marketing tactics and cult-like company culture. It's definitely worth a watch!
We want to know what you think about Evie! Take the official Evie reader survey.