LuLaRich is a four-part docuseries about the rapid ride of LuLaRoe, a multi-level marketing company that sold brightly-patterned clothes like leggings, maxi-skirts and more. Created and directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, the docuseries examines how the company built a billion-dollar business in a few short years, then started buckling under due to lawsuits from suppliers and the retailers that are the backbone of the business. The contention from these retailers is that LuLaRoe was a pyramid scheme.
LULARICH: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: We hear some chattering, and we see a couple of empty chairs. Then DeAnne and Mark Stidham sit down. DeAnne wonders where she should look, and the director just tells her to look their way.
The Gist: Through interviews with the Stidhams, footage from a deposition they gave in 2019 in response to a lawsuit in Washington state, interviews with retailers who believe they’ve been scorned by the company, and MLM experts like Robert Fitzpatrick, Furst and Nason paint the picture of how the company was founded and grew so rapidly. DeAnne, whose maiden name is Startup, was a single mom with 7 kids who began selling dresses from swap meets at house parties. As that business went along, she met and married Mark; between them, the Mormon family has 14 kids.
In 2012, DeAnne started selling maxi-skirts and stumbled on the MLM model, where they had someone acting as a retailer to buy clothes from them at wholesale and resell at retail. The company was founded in 2013; by 2017, they had thousands of retailers and over $2 billion dollars in revenue. Much of the marketing was done via social media, which is how it spread so quickly. But, as with most MLMs, they promise people a good living but ask them to put up money for a “starter kit” first, costing over $5,000. Some of the retailers interviewed didn’t have that money, but were so desperate to get this business started, they managed to find a way.
As we hear from DeAnne and Mark, they still contend their model is a simple one: Buy clothes from them at wholesale, sell at retail, keep the difference. And they seem to be keeping a positive outlook, despite the lawsuits. But as we hear from retailers at all levels, from one of the first to one of the thousands that came later, there was a lot about the company that was way less simple than just reselling clothes at parties and in Facebook groups.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Furst and Nason directed Fyre Fraud, so they’re well-versed in stories about slick salespeople selling people a pipe dream that is all smoke and mirrors. But the MLM/pyramid scheme aspect of the LuLaRoe story also makes us think about the dueling docuseries about NXIVM, an MLM company that turned out to be a sex cult. Not saying that’s what LuLaRoe is, but the earmarks feel very much the same.
Our Take: Furst and Nason might have been able to do LuLaRich without the Stidhams, given how many screwed-over retailers were willing to talk to them, but, hoo boy, the fact that they did sit down to talk to the filmmakers makes the docuseries 200% better. And that’s mostly due to the magnetic and somewhat unhinged personality of DeAnn Stidham.
It’s pretty clear that she was the driving force of LuLaRoe; yes, Mark had the business sense to get the company’s act together and tighten down its marketing early on, but the company is mostly driven through DeAnn and platinum-blonde visage. Hearing the two of them talking about their company (which is still active) as if all they were doing was selling clothes and the dreams of financial independence is pretty remarkable.
At the end of the first episode, we were almost convinced that they had no idea that what they were creating would become an MLM that would bilk so many at the bottom of the pyramid out of their desperately-needed money. But then you contrast their assured interview footage with their less-assured deposition footage — DeAnn has no idea what her actual title in the company is, and Mark had been familiar with MLMs going back to when his parents sold Amway products — then you realize that the two of them knew exactly what they were doing.
Having Fitzpatrick drop in during the episode to explain the history of MLMs and just how they work to enrich the people who founded them but keep most of the latest to join from making their investments back reminds you of why it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between a legit MLM and an illegal pyramid scheme. Which of them is LuLaRoe? Well, the rest of the series, where we hear from retailers that were saddled with defective product that they couldn’t sell, and had a hard time recruiting more people to join as retailers, should give us a better idea of which it is.
Sex and Skin: None, unless you count a shot of a woman whose LuLaRoe leggings had huge holes in them.
Parting Shot: As we see threads pulling apart, we hear someone saying that “They went too fast. Way, way, way too fast.”
Sleeper Star: One of the company’s first retailers, Ashleigh Lautaha, succinctly and articulately talks about what drew her to LuLaRoe, and will likely be a good source to talk about some of the craziness that ensued as the company grew out of control, from the Stidhams gaslighing retailers that were unsuccessful to DeAnne recruiting retailers to get gastric bypass surgery in Mexico.
Most Pilot-y Line: A rundown of all the Stidhams’ children and grandchildren seemed to be a bit excessive. However, the fact that two of their non-related-by-blood kids are now married to each other was… interesting.
Our Call: STREAM IT. LuLaRich isn’t your average cult/MLM/pyramid scheme story because the people who are at the top of that pyramid are prominently featured in an effort to get in front of the issues they face. That’s what makes this series stand out from the others.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.