Amazon Prime Video has a hit on its hands with its very own over-the-top docuseries, LuLaRich. No one’s getting their arms ripped off by tigers, but the four-part special is nonetheless full of larger-than-life characters and jaw-dropping moments, plus lawsuits that’ll have more of an impact on most people’s lives than to what extent zoos are regulated. That’s because LuLaRich — whose title is a play on the company name, LuLaRoe — tells the riveting, often insidious and all-too-common story of how multi-level marketing schemes metastasize their way into American life.
It’s not surprising that LuLaRich premiered to an already-interested audience. As the series depicts, more than 80,000 people signed up to sell the company’s wares, and exponentially more people purchased them. Everyone with a Facebook account circa 2016 has heard of LuLaRoe, the direct sales fashion retailer started by Deanne Brady and Mark Stidham, and everyone who kept active on Facebook in the years since likely scrolled through its downfall. LuLaRich gives a chair and a microphone to a wide array of vested parties, with surprisingly little interference from filmmakers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, who previously made the documentary Fyre Fraud for Hulu.
What makes LuLaRich binge-worthy is the willing participation of the company’s founders. Their story begins with some questionable bootstraps mythology. Deanne and Mark were both previously married and had too many kids to count between them, some of them adopted, and two of whom (in one of the show’s crazier revelations) married each other. According to Mark, the worst thing in the world was having a regular job that paid $400 a week. He yearned to be an entrepreneur, as Deanne’s mother was. When Deanne shares what she thinks is an endearing anecdote about how Mrs. Startup (her mother’s actual name) tossed thousands of dollars of bills in the air for her children to scramble after, the viewer senses that, rather than lay out its point, LuLaRich is going to let the Stidham’s paint a not-very-flattering picture of themselves.
The Stidhams are a garish study in contrasts. The clothing they peddled was modest on the downlow (they’re Mormon), but Deanna wielded such control over consultants’ appearances, she pressured them into gastric sleeve surgery in Tijuana, all so they could look hotter. They espouse hard work, but gave choice corporate positions to unqualified family members, rarely seen at the offices. They used a poppy, shallow feminist aesthetic to entice stay-at-home moms to be “girlbosses,” but promoted some disgustingly backwards “rules” about femininity, including exchanging sexual favors with one’s husbands for money and goods. Though Deanne started the brand with skirts of her own design, when asked to talk about female empowerment, Mark deigns to answer for her.
But by far, the most noteworthy cognitive dissonance on display is how the Stidhams see themselves: as saviors who are “blessing lives” instead of taking advantage. Self-delusion is a major theme in LuLaRich. Because the docuseries stitches together the Stidhams’ interview with depositions, it’s obvious they’re being careful not to incriminate themselves. To assume they’ve bought into their own fantasy would be to excuse them of wrongdoing, but the Stidhams are so relentlessly positive and self-important, one has to wonder. Both increasingly behave like cult leaders as the company grows, and Mark openly preaches as if he is a prophet at what are supposed to be business conferences about leggings.
If LuLaRoe was only selling leggings, or even clothing franchises, there’d be no problem and no TV show. That’s what the company seemed like it was doing when the first round of sales reps bought wholesale stock off of Deanne. She’s correct when she says America’s moms are an under tapped resource, and in an inflexible economy that doesn’t value them, any opportunity to make some cash on their own terms seems too good to be true. Since LuLaRoe consultants managed unique boxes of inventory that cost $5,500 but sold well, it didn’t appear to be a pyramid scheme. Early adopters tell the camera how life-changing it was…at first.