Culture Pick | ‘LuLaRich’ shines an ugly light on the manipulation tactics of multi-level marketing companies


Maddy Reda | @maddyreda1, Staff Reporter

It all started with a pair of leggings. 

LuLaRich,” the limited docuseries on Amazon Prime, shines a terrifying and borderline satirical light on the world of multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes. It exposes LuLaRoe, a massive clothing retailer that mysteriously amassed over $3 billion in profits in 2016, just one year after the company was founded. 

The four-part series follows LuLaRoe co-founders Deanna Brady and her husband Mark Stidham, and it features exclusive interviews from several former LuLaRoe consultants who lost everything by falling prey to the enticing promises of getting rich quickly. 

LuLaRoe’s legality and existence are muddy in the eyes of the law, as the retailer is classified as a “multi-level marketing company,” which are currently legal in all 50 states. 

Bryan Hochstein, an assistant professor of marketing at The University of Alabama, said that being a multi-level marketing company isn’t always a bad thing.

“There are several questions to ask while investigating an opportunity,” Hochstein said. “Is the opportunity more about recruiting people or selling products? Is there a large, nonrefundable up-front investment?”

Hochstein said that if the company’s main job is recruiting people, there is a big up-front “investment” in a product, and the product is questionable, the job probably crosses the line into being a pyramid scheme.

According to Time, the most likely victims of pyramid schemes are families with “high childcare costs with no guaranteed paid parental leave policies.” Hochstein said that in most cases, pyramid schemes play upon most people’s desires to “get rich quick,” “get in on a good deal” or “make it.” 

“If it seems too good to be true, it usually is,” Hochstein said. “So investigate any opportunity to make sure it is a good deal and one that you can honestly describe to a family member or friend as being worth the price and a good value.”

While Stidham and Brady maintained throughout the series that LuLaRoe did not rely on recruiting downlines of new members or start-up fees for profit, interviews with former consultants revealed that those looking to become vendors for LuLaRoe had to put down a minimum of $5,000 to buy “inventory” before they could begin to sell and recruit.

Instead of achieving the promised dream of women becoming the primary breadwinners of their homes by selling LuLaRoe garments, families found themselves torn apart by divorce, facing crippling debt from the surplus of unsold merchandise and selling their cars or houses to compensate for lack of sales.

Iliana Estarellas, a former designer at LuLaRoe, said it was impossible to keep up with the company’s growing demands to come up with new patterns.

“I was making art with a gun against my head,” Estarellas said.

Courtney Harwood, an ex-top consultant at LuLaRoe, said Brady added her to a group chat called the “Tijuana LaRoe Skinny’s” to encourage the recipients in the chat to undergo an invasive gastric sleeve operation in Mexico to lose weight.

“There came a push to be a certain size,” Harwood said, citing the hospitalization for her botched weight-loss procedure as the turning point for her relationship with LuLaRoe. “What have I done to myself? What have I done to my family?”

Videos from conferences and recruitment conventions showed the use of emotional manipulation tactics like love-bombing and toxic positivity to falsely declare that individuals were directly responsible for their success or failure with LuLaRoe.

“Welcome to life, your experience may vary,” Stidham said. “We have equal opportunity, we didn’t promise equal outcome.”

The company grew exponentially, leading to a decline in quality control and resulting in shipments of sheer, moldy leggings that tore at their first wear. Consultants who expressed concerns about the declining quality of the shipments were often gaslighted or scolded by Stidham or Brady.

Former LuLaRoe vendor Roberta Blevins said she grew skeptical when she received shipments with damaged leggings that she described as smelling like “chlorine and death.”

The consumer protection lawsuit filed by the state of Washington claimed that Brady and Stidham “made unfair and deceptive misrepresentations regarding the profitability of being an independent retailer.”

In addition to having to pay $4.75 million in 2021, the lawsuit said that LuLaRoe is required to publish an income disclosure statement, calculate bonuses based on retails sales rather than the amount of merchandise purchased by retailers, and allow any new retailer 45 days to return all inventory for a full refund. 

Variety said LuLaRoe serves as a rich metaphor all on its own.

“They have the bearing of the founders who’ve made great American corporations but were selling just an image and some scraps, a feeling of inclusion and belonging tied to strips of soft fabric,” the article said. “Quality control at LuLaRoe fell off over time, such that, deep into the company’s chaotic era, garments tended to rip apart at the seams.”