In telling the story of LuLaRoe, the multilevel marketing company that has convinced people to buy skirts and leggings to sell to other people, the Amazon documentary reality series LuLaRich repeats one simple but powerful technique: juxtaposition.
“I don’t remember what my understanding of a pyramid scheme was at that time,” head of leadership and culture at LuLaRoe Jordan Brady says in a filmed deposition. Then directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason cut immediately to a clip from a LuLaRoe “Training the Trainers Webinar” in which Brady says, “We need to get away from being a pyramid scheme.”
And then they cut to Mark Stidham, co-founder of LuLaRoe and husband to Brady’s mother, DeAnne Stidham. “You have to put those comments in context,” Mark says. “Most of us are not always precise with language. So a thing that he said was clarifying a safe harbor, actually sounded like we were afraid that we weren’t safe to begin with. We never were, never have been, a pyramid, and we’re not a pyramid today.”
So which is it? The documentary series presents an answer, but not as a lecture. Instead, it’s the result of the weight of its evidence. There’s something very effective about watching the founders of the company repeatedly extolling the virtues of their business model, and then seeing example after example of what happened to their “retailers,” the people who bought in. Again and again, the documentary seamlessly moves from story to story.
LuLaRich doesn’t shred the Stidhams or the people who spent tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, and made money, though not as much as the tends of thousands they made in bonuses for recruiting other people. And it has access, starting with the company’s founders, but also including everyone from bitter former employees to cheerful current retailers.
The series opens with Mark Stidham and DeAnne Stidham sitting in their corporate headquarters, looking excited about an opportunity to share a story with a film crew. Their openness to answering questions helps make the show work, and is also surprising. “My attorneys, if they were sitting here, they’d probably tell me to shut up,” Mark says later in the series. Perhaps that explains the title card at the end of the last episode that says, “Mark and DeAnne declined a request for a second interview.”
The narrative is roughly linear, starting before the company’s founding and continuing to today. It has so much archival footage and interviews that it doesn’t need to rely on recreations or drone shots. Mostly it has people who are good at sharing their stories, and editing that’s good at stitching them together with jaunty music.
Derryl Trujillo, a former LuLuRoe staff member, ends up being one of the most forceful critics in the series. “History will ultimately remember LuLaRoe as an unethical, immoral family—because history is written by the victors, in the words of General Martok from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and history will remember our side prevailing over them,” he says in the final episode.
Despite his delivery of that amusing but damning line, for some reason the directors also leave in pre-interview footage of him awkwardly sitting down in the interview chair, and looking extremely uncomfortable. It’s a moment that comes across as childishly cruel, even before we know what he’s going to say, and the series repeats this technique throughout, starting with DeAnne fixing the rug that’s under her interview chairs. Perhaps that illustrates part of her character, but ultimately it just feels cheap.
LuLaRich isn’t going to take down LuLaRoe, which continues to operate, having settled with the State of Washington, which accused the company of “unfair and deceptive misrepresentations regarding the profitability of being an independent retailer for LuLaRoe.”
Still, compared to some of the flimsy documentary series that have been churned in recent years, LuLaRich feels substantial, like a definitive document of the rise of this particular company. But it only has a light tough with the larger picture, and multi-level marketing companies, and how exploitative they can be. It mostly relies on just two experts for context, but doesn’t go much further than including their comments.
While I definitely recommend it, I didn’t find myself as blown away by LuLaRich as others have. I think that’s because I’d already experienced a version of this story—and learned so much more about MLMs—from The Dream, a fantastic podcast from Jane Marie and Dann Gallucci’s Little Everywhere.
In The Dream’s first season back in 2018, it offered an even more-compelling journey through the multi-level marketing and pyramid scheme world, from walks through history to immersion in an actual MLM. (Its second season goes on to explore the wellness industry, and is also terrific.)
With just four 45-minute episodes, Amazon’s LuLaRich is an effective, short watch. But if you want better insight into multilevel marketing—how it works, where it came from, why it matters—I highly recommend listening to The Dream, too.
Effectively uses its access, and juxtaposes footage brilliantly, as it tells the story of LuLaRoe. B+
What works for me:
- Smart editing that builds a clear case
- Great access
- Feels like a complete, balanced story of LuLaRich
What could be better:
- Some claims feel underdeveloped
- Fewer cheap documentarian tricks
A compelling, informative journey through MLMs and, later, the wellness industry. A