Amazon’s LuLaRoe docuseries uncovers a pyramid scheme made of leggings

Entertainment

The A.V. Club 10 September, 2021 - 09:15am 69 views

Twice the fun on Thursday as the Double Eviction revealed who was voted out last night on Big Brother 23 and which Houseguests would make the F6, taking us into the final weeks of the BB23 season. There was no room for error here with Alyssa’s game and she would need to thread the needle to make it through the night against the somewhat secret alliance of the Cookout. Which way did the DE go? Let’s find out!

Don’t miss this week’s Double Eviction episode! You can stream the episode live on CBS’s Paramount+ with the legacy plan or the new Premium plan in most markets across the US and the HOH comp on either plan so you don’t have to miss any of the fun even if you’re out tonight.

It’s going to be a jam-packed hour-long show this week (and a two-hour DE show next week, so who knows on that) and we’ll run through the first eviction, an HOH comp, nominations, Veto comp, Veto meeting, and finally another eviction. The next HOH comp will likely be later tonight and held off-cam from the Feeds but we’ll be watching for those spoilers too and will keep you updated all through the show and after.

By a vote of 4-1, Claire has been evicted from BB23.

Now the HGs will need to hustle out back to the yard where a new Head of Household will be crowned and this one will last even shorter than Tiffany’s first HOH win! The winner here will decide on two quick nominees and could determine if the Cookout makes F6.

Hannah is the new HOH! Congratulations to Hannah! Her noms are coming up quickly!

Before things cut to commercials Hannah did speedy one on ones and told Xavier he’d be going up then she next told Alyssa that Xavier was her target so she was going up next to him. But obviously, we know the plan is to evict Alyssa. Alyssa will need to win Veto to survive the night.

Noms are set but there’s a second chance at safety with the Veto competition. This will be fast and furious and will forever be a Clown Shoe memory for me. Hah!

That should make it a lock for the Cookout to reach Final 6 with an expected Alyssa eviction here. The ceremony and second eviction vote are coming up shortly.

By a vote of 3-1, Alyssa has been evicted from Big Brother.

We’re down to our F6 of the Big Brother 23 season. Congratulations to all the HGs who made it. Quite an accomplishment for The Cookout! Now it’s time to crown a new Head of Household! But not just yet. Watch for those HOH results later tonight and we’ll keep you updated.

After the show, we’ll be heading back to the Live Feeds to watch the fallout over who won HOH & the start of the next rounds of planning for this week’s target. Grab the Free Trial and join us there now!

Want more? Download our free Big Brother App, join us on Facebook & Twitter, and get our Email Updates! We’ll keep you updated with the latest news and our in-depth reviews of the season.

Big Brother 23 Live Feeds Week 9: Thursday Daytime Highlights

‘Big Brother 23’ Spoilers: Who Won HoH Last Night? Week 10

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Amazon’s LuLaRich Examines a Multi-Level-Marketing Meltdown

PRIMETIMER 10 September, 2021 - 11:00am

The similarities are real, but like so many shows on streaming TV these days, the complicated setup is just designed to get On Becoming a God out of the chute. Questions like “What kind of person willingly joins a pyramid scheme” soon take a backseat to ones like, “Why are those two hooking up?”

A better reference point for LuLaRich is the Duplass Brothers docuseries for Netflix, Wild Wild Country, which chronicled the rise and fall of the Rajneeshpuram community in Oregon. Filmed decades after the controversy, Wild Wild Country was able to find some thoughtful former members of the Rajneesh band who offered very credible reasons for why they would leave their old lives behind to help a rogue swami from India build a town in the middle of nowhere.

Inside LuLaRich, directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason have embedded some equally compelling stories about why people get swept up by MLM fever and wind up bankrupting not only themselves but friends and family that they enthusiastically pull into the scheme with them.

Furst and Nason are best known for Fyre Fraud, the chippier of the two competing docs about the Fyre Festival disaster. And just as they did in Fyre Fraud, the filmmakers scored an interview with the people at the eye of the storm. Deanne and Mark Stidham, a Mormon couple with a Mormon-sized brood, started LuLaRoe in 2013 to sell comfortable, modest clothing using an army of “fashion consultants,” mostly married women selling out of their homes on Instagram.

We hear plenty from the Stidhams over the course of four hours, but it’s the less flattering video inserted between sound bites that's more compelling. Here’s Mark Stidham berating sellers for not working hard enough. Here’s a company executive promising that LuLaRoe will always accept unsold merchandise for a 100% refund (a promise the company will renege on when times get tough).

And here are the Stidhams taking part in a very different kind of interview — videotaped depositions they were forced to give in 2019 when the State of Washington sued them on behalf of more than 3000 LuLaRoe vendors over “deceptive claims and false promises.” It’s what they don’t say in their depositions that is so damning. Each time one of their hype-filled statements is read back to them by the state attorney, they meekly retreat behind a stock answer like “I don’t recall.” (LuLaRoe eventually agreed to pay $4.75 million in the case.)

Amazon’s publicity promises that LuLaRich shows “how it all went wrong in a spectacularly weird—and comedic—fashion.” That’s a bit of an oversell. Certainly there are some odd tidbits in here, like the woman who sells her breast milk in order to afford the $5,000 franchise fee to sell LuLaRoe, or the Stidham family members who are appointed to executive positions in the company despite a dearth of experience. But these are hardly red flags.

Besides, as LuLaRich amply documents, business was great for a long time. Lots of people made money selling fast fashion. Yes, scale was a problem, as it might be at any company that grows insanely — just five years into operations LuLaRoe had 80,000 sellers and more than $1 billion in sales. Boxes began arriving at sellers’ doorsteps filled with damp, stinky items. Some company designers dealt with the relentless demand for new looks by copying and pasting images off the web. So many weird images were appearing on LuLaRoe apparel that they inspired their own subreddit.

This all makes great fodder when trying to fill a four-part docuseries, but it doesn’t really get at why LuLaRoe failed. Those reasons aren’t weird or comedic in the least: The company grew too fast for its own good, it was run by two people who were much better at selling than bookkeeping, they picked the wrong business structure and a fatal combination of social media and journalism exposed their sins.

MLMs rely for their revenue not just on product sales by their members, but on members recruiting other people to sell product. These “downlines” are typically friends and family members of the original seller, who — along with their uplines — take a cut of every sale by their downlines.

Legally, this pyramidal structure is allowed up to five levels. Ethically, it’s super-sketchy to impose this business model on people who are launching their very first enterprise, often at great financial risk. Since the wild wild country of MLM is largely unregulated, no one at LuLaRoe was obligated to tell the 80 percent of sellers at the bottom of the pyramid that there was no way they were going to make money without downlines below them, not with thousands of more established LuLaRoe sellers already crowding social media.

Eventually, though, low profits and quality issues caught up with LuLaRoe. Frustrated vendors began speaking up on public-facing boards. An intrepid watchdog began documenting the problems with the company’s MLM model. A dedicated BuzzFeed writer published stories about some of the hundreds of women whose modest fortunes were wiped out by the company’s ineptitude and bad faith. We hear from all of these parties, and they’re the ones who make LuLaRich an illuminating (if two episodes too long) view.

The filmmakers follow several current and former LuLaRoe vendors, chronicling their journeys through the early successes and the hard times. For these women and thousands like them, having a LuLaRoe franchise was their first real taste of entrepreneurship. LuLaRich leaves you with the impression that many of these women have suffered lasting damage to their relationships as well as finances.

Still, as any entrepreneur will tell you, failure is not a bug in the capitalist machine, it’s a feature. I suspect many of these women will bounce back, if they haven’t already, and apply the lessons learned to their next adventure in selling. If nothing else, they’ve had two valuable takeaways: one, don't do a MLM; and two, don't trust anyone who even vaguely reminds you of Mark and Deanne Stidham.

TOPICS: LuLaRich, Amazon, Fyre Fraud, On Becoming a God in Central Florida

Copyright © 2021 Snugglefish Media. All rights reserved.

These Leggings May Ruin Your Life

The Cut 09 September, 2021 - 01:24pm

These are a few thoughts that shuffled through my head as I embarked on LuLaRich, a new Amazon docuseries about leggings that ruin lives. At first this struck me as an implausible proposition, but I had never heard of LuLaRoe, a multilevel-marketing company that rocketed to a $2 billion valuation on the currency of its exuberantly patterned loungewear. Targeting stay-at-home moms, typically of the white, Christian persuasion, LuLaRoe allegedly sold the same dream to legions of women: You really can Have It All — more time with the kids, more money, more independence — and without ever leaving the house. It’s the same “Hey, hun” lure MLMs often cast to reel in recruits, but LuLaRich takes us on a dizzying climb up the scaffolding behind the charade. We are talking about a racket run on elastic pants in loud, violently colored prints, and the women who sold whole freezers full of breast milk to join it. Over four episodes, the calamity keeps spiraling, uncovering new layers of misogyny and deception the farther down filmmakers dig. I could not look away.

Few of the people interviewed reported making meaningful money as LuLaRoe retailers; many said they worked around the clock to break even at best, or voluntarily took a loss to get out of the business. One said she declared bankruptcy. With MLMs, it’s often the case that only the people at the very top profit. But scores of civil litigants, and even Washington State prosecutors who sued, and subsequently settled with, LuLaRoe in 2019, say pyramid scheme would be a more accurate descriptor. LuLaRoe required its consultants to pay exorbitant buy-in fees, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 for a starter pack of inventory, which they then were to sell through their own personal shops. But for much of the company’s run, each consultant’s purchase of new items triggered a commission for the person who recruited them, regardless of whether or not any of the clothing ended up selling. All that cash zipping up the line reportedly created tens of thousands of dollars in monthly bonuses for some managers, at least during the boom years. (LuLaRoe has since changed its policies, and adjusted its start-up fee to $499.) But when you have one group’s investments paying into another group’s pockets, you also have a pyramid scheme, and you have broken the law.

The brains behind LuLaRoe — DeAnne Startup Brady Stidham (Startup is her actual maiden name) and her second husband, Mark Stidham — emphatically deny any illegal activity. They insist, throughout the course of a lengthy interview, that they only ever intended to empower women to be strong independent business ladies. This is the foundation of DeAnne’s lore: Herself a formerly “struggling mother” of 14, she birthed LuLaRoe out of her trunk, ca. 2013, selling wholesale dresses and homemade maxi skirts at private home parties. Now, she and Mark — a pink and blustery man who seems to sweat snake oil — preside over LuLaRoe with iron fists, according to the defected Boss Babes (to borrow corporate jargon) who went on the record for LuLaRich.

The LuLaRoe look occupies a very specific aesthetic niche. Think crowds of suburban white women numbering in the thousands, all draped in spacious jersey and (in many cases) sporting haircuts that beg to speak to your manager, letting loose at a Kelly Clarkson concert — an actual scene that features in LuLaRich. Departed employees say that DeAnne pressured her favorite consultants into getting discount gastric-bypass surgery in Tijuana, from a doctor with whom she had seemingly cut a deal. (DeAnne denies boosting the surgeries as a side hustle, explaining she was simply happy to pass along her secret to anyone who marveled at her skinniness.) On a more regular basis, she allegedly encouraged leaders to dump money into manicures, blowouts, designer accessories, and expensive vacations, pushing them to post about every positive experience with LuLaRoe hashtags, presumably to appeal to new recruits.

Per the documentary, the reality of the LuLaRoe lifestyle was not so shiny. The company filled orders with limited-run prints at random, sometimes lending Facebook Live unboxings — the bulk of sellers apparently worked via Facebook Live — the flavor of a cattle auction, so frenzied was popular pursuit of certain designs. But as a retailer, whether you scored a coveted floral or a labial-looking hamburger print was utterly unpredictable. When you found your shop deluged with product that no one wanted, the only hope at turning a profit lay in buying more clothing, and working longer hours to move it. Many people blew their savings and took out new credit cards chasing the carrot LuLaRoe dangled, with leadership’s active encouragement. That is, until the other shoe dropped.

Big brazen cons are popular investigative fare these days, and the arc from Champagne on corporate jets to fraud investigations is a popular one post–Fyre Fest. Actually, LuLaRich comes to you from the same people who brought you Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, and while LuLaRoe doesn’t provide quite the same level of jaw-dropping audacity that Billy McFarland and Ja Rule did, it’s full of bananas asides (for example: DeAnne and Mark chatting about the marriage of their two children to one another) that feel too rich to process. And then there’s the allegation that this entire enterprise lost people their homes, catalyzed divorces, drove wedges between families — all in the pursuit of cartoonish leggings. The thing that haunts me is, somehow, they’re still going.

These Leggings May Ruin Your Life

Variety 09 September, 2021 - 01:24pm

These are a few thoughts that shuffled through my head as I embarked on LuLaRich, a new Amazon docuseries about leggings that ruin lives. At first this struck me as an implausible proposition, but I had never heard of LuLaRoe, a multilevel-marketing company that rocketed to a $2 billion valuation on the currency of its exuberantly patterned loungewear. Targeting stay-at-home moms, typically of the white, Christian persuasion, LuLaRoe allegedly sold the same dream to legions of women: You really can Have It All — more time with the kids, more money, more independence — and without ever leaving the house. It’s the same “Hey, hun” lure MLMs often cast to reel in recruits, but LuLaRich takes us on a dizzying climb up the scaffolding behind the charade. We are talking about a racket run on elastic pants in loud, violently colored prints, and the women who sold whole freezers full of breast milk to join it. Over four episodes, the calamity keeps spiraling, uncovering new layers of misogyny and deception the farther down filmmakers dig. I could not look away.

Few of the people interviewed reported making meaningful money as LuLaRoe retailers; many said they worked around the clock to break even at best, or voluntarily took a loss to get out of the business. One said she declared bankruptcy. With MLMs, it’s often the case that only the people at the very top profit. But scores of civil litigants, and even Washington State prosecutors who sued, and subsequently settled with, LuLaRoe in 2019, say pyramid scheme would be a more accurate descriptor. LuLaRoe required its consultants to pay exorbitant buy-in fees, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 for a starter pack of inventory, which they then were to sell through their own personal shops. But for much of the company’s run, each consultant’s purchase of new items triggered a commission for the person who recruited them, regardless of whether or not any of the clothing ended up selling. All that cash zipping up the line reportedly created tens of thousands of dollars in monthly bonuses for some managers, at least during the boom years. (LuLaRoe has since changed its policies, and adjusted its start-up fee to $499.) But when you have one group’s investments paying into another group’s pockets, you also have a pyramid scheme, and you have broken the law.

The brains behind LuLaRoe — DeAnne Startup Brady Stidham (Startup is her actual maiden name) and her second husband, Mark Stidham — emphatically deny any illegal activity. They insist, throughout the course of a lengthy interview, that they only ever intended to empower women to be strong independent business ladies. This is the foundation of DeAnne’s lore: Herself a formerly “struggling mother” of 14, she birthed LuLaRoe out of her trunk, ca. 2013, selling wholesale dresses and homemade maxi skirts at private home parties. Now, she and Mark — a pink and blustery man who seems to sweat snake oil — preside over LuLaRoe with iron fists, according to the defected Boss Babes (to borrow corporate jargon) who went on the record for LuLaRich.

The LuLaRoe look occupies a very specific aesthetic niche. Think crowds of suburban white women numbering in the thousands, all draped in spacious jersey and (in many cases) sporting haircuts that beg to speak to your manager, letting loose at a Kelly Clarkson concert — an actual scene that features in LuLaRich. Departed employees say that DeAnne pressured her favorite consultants into getting discount gastric-bypass surgery in Tijuana, from a doctor with whom she had seemingly cut a deal. (DeAnne denies boosting the surgeries as a side hustle, explaining she was simply happy to pass along her secret to anyone who marveled at her skinniness.) On a more regular basis, she allegedly encouraged leaders to dump money into manicures, blowouts, designer accessories, and expensive vacations, pushing them to post about every positive experience with LuLaRoe hashtags, presumably to appeal to new recruits.

Per the documentary, the reality of the LuLaRoe lifestyle was not so shiny. The company filled orders with limited-run prints at random, sometimes lending Facebook Live unboxings — the bulk of sellers apparently worked via Facebook Live — the flavor of a cattle auction, so frenzied was popular pursuit of certain designs. But as a retailer, whether you scored a coveted floral or a labial-looking hamburger print was utterly unpredictable. When you found your shop deluged with product that no one wanted, the only hope at turning a profit lay in buying more clothing, and working longer hours to move it. Many people blew their savings and took out new credit cards chasing the carrot LuLaRoe dangled, with leadership’s active encouragement. That is, until the other shoe dropped.

Big brazen cons are popular investigative fare these days, and the arc from Champagne on corporate jets to fraud investigations is a popular one post–Fyre Fest. Actually, LuLaRich comes to you from the same people who brought you Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, and while LuLaRoe doesn’t provide quite the same level of jaw-dropping audacity that Billy McFarland and Ja Rule did, it’s full of bananas asides (for example: DeAnne and Mark chatting about the marriage of their two children to one another) that feel too rich to process. And then there’s the allegation that this entire enterprise lost people their homes, catalyzed divorces, drove wedges between families — all in the pursuit of cartoonish leggings. The thing that haunts me is, somehow, they’re still going.

LuLaRich Is Another Perfectly Adequate Docuseries About Scam Culture

Vulture 09 September, 2021 - 12:59pm

LuLaRich benefits from running roughly chronologically. There are teasers at the beginning to let you know how bad things will be, and occasional jumps backward for additional context, but for the most part, the series’ four installments, which drop simultaneously tomorrow, generally chart the company from inception through its sharp rise in popularity, and then past the point when the cracks begin to show. This straightforward design is a welcome relief from the trend of so many shows (especially fiction, but docuseries as well) that leap through time willy-nilly.

It also lets LuLaRich showcase the oddity of LuLaRoe’s founders from the beginning. The company was built as a family project, the brainchild of DeAnne and Mark Stidham, after DeAnne had local success with an in-home fashion-resale business. The Stidhams, members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, are the parents of 14 children, though the exact family math is tough to track as Diane rattles off a list of births and adoptions, spouses and grandchildren, and the offhand comment that two of the siblings are married to each other. (The Stidhams note those two are not biologically related.) This eye-opening personal detail is perfect for the start of a series about an eye-opening business catastrophe, and much of what unspools in the LuLaRoe story after this point is made more rich by the earlier deep dive into the Stidhams’ family and cultural values. It makes sense that the company struggles to stay ahead of its incredible growth, because the Stidhams largely hired underqualified family members to help run the business. The cultural appeal of LuLaRoe comes into focus, too, once it’s clear the Stidhams’ values helped sell the business to women looking for ways to financially support their families without having to work outside the home.

There are areas where LuLaRich excels. Several of its talking-head interviews are with women who had moving, upsetting, life-changing experiences with the company, and who can articulate that history in compelling ways. The series is also directed and edited with a gossipy sensibility and strong impulse toward the dishy, telling detail. (There is one offhand comment about Mario Lopez that eviscerates him in such an efficient, devastating way that I suspect I’ll remember the comment long after LuLaRich itself fades into the distance.) And there are areas where LuLaRich is less impressive — it lacks context about the LDS Church and the way Mormon fashion and modesty tie into LuLaRoe’s aesthetic, and although it gestures toward the end to the way LuLaRoe’s false feminism is really a trap door into misogyny, the series once again veers away from completing the circle between the company’s culture and the Stidhams’ religious values.

None of LuLaRich’s highlights or slips are spectacular or egregious. It is a perfectly well-made, perfectly adequate docuseries about American scam culture, and although it does illuminate the gruesome, life-destroying side of MLMs, what it mostly illuminates is how well this genre of docuseries has coalesced into its own system of tropes and devices. The first shot is of the Stidhams settling themselves into their interview chairs. Cameras are rolling, but the interview hasn’t officially begun yet, and we can see how pleasant and friendly they appear as they adjust their clothing and force their facial muscles to still. DeAnne pauses and insists on smoothing out a rug, even though the production team maintains the wrinkle isn’t in the shot. Look how meticulous she is, how focused on trivialities. See how clueless they are about how badly this is going to go for them, how blasé they are about all the lives they’ve ruined. It’s a shot that makes you realize how many times you’ve already seen it. The same is true for the cute graphics explaining how MLMs work, the second-nature documentary style of the talking-head interviews, and the social-media posts that flicker on the screen as rapid-fire evidence. The narrative curve is familiar too, from personal to sociocultural and then back to personal again.

LuLaRich is a well-told, entertaining, and infuriating series about the founding and explosive growth of LuLaRoe, and it hits the beats of a certain genre of documentary project with familiar, pleasant regularity. Its arcs are easy to anticipate, and its visual and directorial style is, too. There are no surprises, but it fits a mold in a way that makes the mold itself suddenly visible, and that’s satisfying in its own way.

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