Amazon’s four-part LuLaRich docuseries shows audiences exactly how multi-level marketing companies take advantage of women.
One of the most prevalent statements that comes up after someone watches a true-crime documentary about cults like HBO’s The Vow or A&E’s Leah Remini:Scientology&The Aftermath is, “Well, I could never be in a cult—I’d never fall for that.”
Amazon Studios’ new docuseries LuLaRich, about the rise and plateau of a clothing company, serves as Exhibit A for why the above statement frays at the seams, as cults mask themselves in brands and have been doing so for years (remember this creepy Saturn commercial where Saturn owners all went on vacation to see where their car was made?).
If you’ve been on Facebook over the past five years or are a white woman between the ages of 18 and 100, then you are probably familiar with LuLaRoe, a clothing company that made loungewear and pants with pizza prints the rage about three or four years ago. They were everywhere, uniting impassioned white women in the second-worst way anything could in 2016. Women all over the country were having parties to sell these twee dresses and pants. (I can recall going onto a LuLaRoe truck to check out what they were selling, and a zombie-like woman straddling the floor, with pants piled onto her shoulders, hissed at me, “I’m obsessed,” and I walked out of the truck.)
But like most things that seem too good to be true, as the four-part documentary examines, LuLaRoe was not good when it came to quality (moldy, smelly pants anyone?), and based on the principles founders Deanne and Mark Stidham were peddling, not true either. While LuLaRoe encouraged women to be independent and unapologetically themselves, the series goes into alarming detail of how the Stidhams fostered a toxic culture specifically geared toward keeping women down, culminating in the forced reading of Laura Schlessinger books, suggested marital remedies involving fellatio, “retiring” husbands in order to put a financial grip on the women, and group Tijuana trips for gastric bypass, so everyone can look the same (how very Raniere of them). And on top of it all, Mark Stidham would occasionally slip some Book of Mormon schtick into his sermons, err, conference talks.
Four episodes is enough to cover a company that’s the same age as Blue Ivy Carter, but Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason amble through a lot of terrain in that time, including why the brand appealed to stay-at-home-moms, its treatment of women of color (one black woman’s reason for why she didn’t want to go on the LuLaRoe cruise is one of the funniest moments on TV this year) and how they used women’s husbands to work for and against them. Furst and Willoughby Nason’s interviews with the Stidhams are both chilling and captivating, especially when juxtaposed against footage of the deposition in the $4 million lawsuit slapped against them. Suddenly the sunny Stidham exterior falls away, and the starkly serious, at times testy, HBIC Deanne doesn’t know the basics about her company, like how the bonus structure works.
Like HBO’s McMillions, LuLaRich is chock full of interesting characters, and First and Willoughby Nason astutely hone in on their quirks. One could even argue that some of these women could have entire episodes dedicated to their stories, as many are devastating. While there may not be a Doug Mathews in this bunch, this particular doc comes with a twist of its own, once you realize that LuLaRoe is still in operation today.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.