Is maxi skirt and leggings company LuLaRoe a legitimate multi-level marketing (MLM) company or a pyramid scheme? That depends on who you ask, and it’s the central question in the Amazon docuseries “LuLaRich.”
If you ask the founders of LuLaRoe, the husband and wife team of Deanne Brady and Mark Stidham, as the directors and producers of the series did, it’s the former. If you ask “LuLaRich” executive producers Cori Shepherd Stern (“Warm Bodies”) and Blye Pagon Faust (“Spotlight”), as TheWrap did, well, it’s pretty clearly the latter.
Shepherd Stern first took note of the LuLaRoe explosion on — where else? — her social media feeds.
“I’m from Florida, and my high school friends who were still back home really were into it,” Shepherd Stern told us.
“I started seeing these leggings pop up and these sales and ‘Gotta get the Pizza Print No. 3’ or whatever — there wasn’t just one kind of pizza print, there were like, multiple different pizza print and cat face,” she continued. “I was like, what is this, WHAT IS THIS?!? This is the job of my friends are taking on?!?”
We swear those italics and caps still don’t quite capture Shepherd Stern’s exasperation at the whole thing. And for good reason — the LuLaRoe model was one all too familiar to Shepherd Stern.
Growing up, her mother “bought into a big, pink makeup case that was the center of shame in our house for the longest time,” she recalled during our interview.
That venture didn’t pan out, but it certainly informed the producer’s current career — and her decision to bring the LuLaRoe story to Pagon Faust, her business partner in the relatively new production company Story Force.
The very nature of pyramid schemes guarantee failure for 99% of their participants. In the case of LuLaRoe, which is not wholly unique in the business of empty promises, the problem was three-fold, Pagon Faust told us.
Shoddy product was one part of it — the very public piece — but more privately it was “the over-saturation of the market” that made LuLaRoe an unsustainable business model.
“There was no control over how many consultants entered the market,” Pagon Faust told TheWrap. She and Shepherd Stern interviewed countless participants who recalled finding out that multiple other women on their very same street were also selling LuLaRoe.
“How do you do that? How do you survive?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question, but one with an answer they uncovered in almost every case: You really can’t.
Those weren’t the only barriers to success — or even to sustainability. Even when LuLaRoe was “doing well at the beginning,” its main bonus structure was based on the family tree structure that often turns multi-level marketing (MLM) companies into pyramid schemes, Pagon Faust explained.
“They were paying people to buy the product,” she said. “They were not compensating them for sales to the actual consumer, the end user.”
Amazon Prime consumers — the end users of the retail website’s free-shipping subscription service and content-streaming program — can watch all four episodes of “LuLaRich” now on Prime Video.