After seeing an IG post from one of my favorite podcasts recommending the LuLaRich docuseries, I convinced my husband that this was an important way to spent 4 hours of our Sunday afternoon.
Overall, it's an intriguing watch, worthy of your time even if you're not versed in the world of MLM's. Let's face it—in the creator world, most of us have been approached by that random girl from high school who wants to onboard you to sell her shakes. Plenty of Instagram bios these days include some version of the line "not interested in your MLM, thanks!"
Here are the fast facts: LuLa Roe is a company that trades in brightly patterned casual clothing. Founder DeAnne Brady Stidham started by selling skirts out of her home and eventually brought in some interested friends to retail the products under her, leading to massive growth and at one point nearly 100k sellers of the product in the US. The startup cost for an individual to join is a steep 5-10k "wholesale" package of clothing that you're then responsible for selling at a profit.
Here's where things get a little messier: in the series, sellers report that their profits from sales were minimal, a few thousand here and there at most. Pyramid scheme accusations arise from the evidence that people in the LuLaRoe business, at least the ones closer to the top of the pyramid, were making GOBS of money off of bringing in people underneath them. Add to that accusations of defective products and you get the whole scammy mess that's currently being battled out in courtrooms. DeAnne and her husband Mark maintain their innocence throughout the doc and at this point if you're still intrigued, you should really just go watch it.
Some of most interesting aspects of the series are the human ones: the people who thought this could change their lives and feel betrayed; the ones who DID make life-changing money and must now reckon with the lives they trampled on to get there. The threads of damaging patriarchal beliefs about what it means for women to work and have families and the gaslighting of women (and their efforts to similarly hoodwink the public) by the company are gasp-worthy.
But what really got me was how easy it is to make a comparison is between MLM's and the creator space. The key ingredient that makes MLM's predatory is the fact that the early adopters take all. Those at the bottom of the pyramid are led to believe they can match that success, but the possibility doesn't exist. The very structure that promises greatness is actually what prohibits it, once you understand.
Is that not the same as influencing? If you got on Instagram back in the first or second year and really went after content creation (or even just fell into success) you could build a brand that today has millions of followers and turns a great profit. Starting out today, the odds are stacked against you in a crowded space with everyone trying to "make it."
Of course, it is still possible to break through as a creator (though you're more likely to do it on TikTok a la Emily Mariko) and that's the difference from an MLM: none of those families even had a chance.
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