(2021) Documentary (Discovery Plus) Rick Ross, Stephanie McNeal, Vivian Kaye, Elijah Tucker, Joy Saavedra, Christina Hinks, DeAnne Brady Stidham, Sharon Tucker, Meg Conley, Jean Marie, Amanda Montell, Mark Stidham, Vivian Kaye, Jill Domme, Wendi Rogers, CJ Sanders, Carla Hadfield, Heather Blithely, Brittany Hunter. Director Uncredited.
“Work hard to get ahead.” That’s the mantra we Americans have heard essentially all our lives; that the secret to a good life was putting our nose to the grindstone and working our tushies off. As that has been exposed to be a bill of goods that has no basis in the reality of the 21st century America, many have turned to adding income in order to make ends meet, let alone get ahead.
DeAnne Brady Stidham and her husband Mark founded LuLaRoe as a women’s clothing company in 2013 with their emphasis on what they described as “buttery soft” leggings with somewhat over-the-top prints and colors. Rather than selling through stores, they enlisted their own retailers – mostly white moms – who sold through social media, posting upbeat videos with the go-for-it attitude of a Jazzercize class.
This type of venture isn’t new. It’s called “Multi-Level Marketing” and has been used successfully by Tupperware, Avon and Mary Kay Cosmetics – all, again, mostly utilizing white moms. But there is an inherent danger in this kind of business and it has to do with recruiting. The more retailers that a product like LuLaRoe can entice, the more sales they make and the more profit. To encourage sales growth, they gave their retailers incentive to sign up new retailers by giving them a bonus for the orders put in by their recruits. This is essentially a pyramid scheme, and they are illegal.
The reason that they’re illegal is that the money flows upwards and those on the bottom of the pyramid generally are left having made a worthless investment while those at the top rake in the dough. The retailers began to notice that the once-high quality leggings began to deteriorate drastically in quality with ugly patterns and forming holes in them with only a single wearing. Retailers found themselves unable to sell the low-quality and increasingly unattractive leggings and were left with thousands of dollars in merchandise that they couldn’t sell. Many of them wound up deeply in debt and some found their relationships with family and friends strained or even broken.
This documentary, airing exclusively on Discovery Plus, examines the cult-like environment that the Stidhams created, using what one expert called “toxic positivity,” in which low sales would be blamed on poor attitudes, or too-small inventories. Top sellers were rewarded with Carnival Cruises or trips to Cancun. Authors and experts on cult behavior Rick Ross and Amanda Montell both detail how LuLaRoe’s environment is similar to that within a cult, while online activist Christina Hinks discuss the evils of Multi-Level Marketing.
This is definitely a cautionary tale, one that continues today – LuLaRoe continues its behavior, as they show in footage from their 2021 Cancun retreat – but it’s clear that this is meant to warn people about how easy promises of “full-time pay for part-time work” can be deceiving and lead to terrible consequences. That LuLaRoe preyed on women desperate for a sense of camaraderie is repulsive.
But keep in mind that while the subject matter is compelling, the format of the documentary is pretty standard and the story not particularly well-told. One can easily glean the same information from Stephanie McNeal’s original BuzzFeed article that detailed the tactics of LuLaRoe, or by the Amazon documentary mini-series LuLaRich which goes into greater depth, although requires more of a time commitment from the viewer. In any case, this is a non-essential documentary on a subject of interest.
REASONS TO SEE: A thorough look at an American scandal.
REASONS TO AVOID: Like many documentaries of this nature, relies on a parade of talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for family viewing, although kids may find this boring.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is essentially a documentary form of the BuzzFeed article by McNeal that exposed the Stidhams and their business practices.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Discovery Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Gig Is Up
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Wonder Park