LuLaRich has done the impossible: make leggings uncomfortable—on screen, at least. The fascinating documentary series juxtaposes snapshots of flashy pants and other colorful clothing with the dark story of the increasingly malicious actions of DeAnne and Mark Stidham, co-founders of the clothing company LuLaRoe. Their products are popular for unapologetically vivid patterns, but the most sought-after item are leggings with colorful prints and an initially “buttery soft fabric.” The clothes might be bright and snug, but LuLaRoe’s success story is marred with lawsuits, heartbreak, and jaw-dropping levels of emotional manipulation. LuLaRich charts the company’s upsetting practices that caused upheaval in the lives of its middle-class retailers. In trying to match its subject, the docuseries is sometimes more showy than needed, but it is effective in capturing the Stidhams’ horrifying leadership, and the financial ruin it caused for their employees.
Founded in 2012, LuLaRoe cannot simply be categorized as a women’s clothing company. It’s thrived on multi-level marketing (or MLM), but former employees don’t hesitate to call it out as a proper pyramid scheme. Roberta Blevins, an ex-LuLaRoe retailer, straight-up calls it a cult in LuLaRich. The introductory episode sets up LuLaRoe’s history and how pyramid schemes work, eventually blending the concept into the company’s methods of conducting business. The company’s target was primarily low-income women and struggling mothers, recruited as salespeople or “fashion consultants” who had to pay between $5,000 to $10,000 to join in and buy inventory to then sell for a profit. The more people they would sign up as retailers moving forward, the more money they would make in bonus checks. By 2016, the company reported over a billion dollars in sales.
The idea was packaged as the American Dream: a lucrative home business; affordable, eye-catching clothes; and being part a nationwide community. For many, it was too good to pass up. Within five years, LuLaRoe had 80,000 independent distributors and consultants around the U.S. But over time, the Stidhams have allegedly defrauded billions of dollars from employees and partners, including manufacturing company Providence Industries, and have faced multiple lawsuits. LuLaRich explores these allegations through increasingly unnerving interviews with people who worked at or are still with the company, as well as the Stidhams, a few of their 14 children, and other relatives.
Even if you’ve never heard of LuLaRoe, this four-episode docuseries is a worthwhile binge. It’s wild and surprising, but also insightful about how such a business operates. The Stidhams still claim they’re not at the top of a pyramid scheme, but the interviewees of LuLaRich say otherwise. Co-directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason wisely include footage from DeAnne and Mark’s 2019 lawsuit depositions in tandem with their documentary interviews, which make it clear the couple knew exactly what they were doing, even if they don’t admit it. While talking to the cameras, Mark and DeAnne present a breezy, confident front. The pretense shatters in the clips of them being officially questioned, or even during their group Zoom calls with employees. Their larger-than-life egos shine through as former employees recall how Mark compared himself to Mormon leader Joseph Smith.
The Stidhams formed a team of thousands of retailers in the name of community, but fostered a culture of false deference, firing anyone who would question their tactics or bring up faulty products—clothes left out in the sun and growing mold, which most retailers describe as stinking worse than dead rats. Mark is heard sternly lecturing them on a call, “You think our inventory is stale? No, you’re stale.” They instructed women (who made up most of their employee base) to do whatever it took to pay for inventory, including selling their breast milk to hospital NICUs, or opening up more and more credit cards. LuLaRich exposes what is essentially an abusive, toxic relationship.
The resourceful, hard-working women who appear in LuLaRich vulnerably describe being gaslit into giving up savings for a company that they believe betrayed them in return. Most of them spent all their money or took out loans to invest in inventory, while top sellers were rewarded with perks like fancy cruises and Katy Perry concerts to lure more retailers. But they all recall LuLaRoe’s clique-like, high-pressure work environment.
Courtney Harwood from North Carolina, who has three children, joined the company in 2015. She talks about getting along with DeAnne and feeling like part of a tribe. But a few years in, she started feeling the squeeze. In episode three, “Blow Up,” she reveals that her breaking point was DeAnne encouraging her to drive to Tijuana for a weight-loss surgery. Her refusal led her to being cut off from fellow co-workers. The women were advised to maintain a certain figure and lifestyle, and credit it all to the company, positioning LuLaRoe as some sort of life-saving miracle. Even their social media hashtag was #BecauseOfLuLaRoe.
Furst and Nason, who also directed Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, fill LuLaRich with the same visual brightness of LuLaRoe’s clothes. They provide a safe space for women like Blevins and Harwood to talk through their losses, process internal trauma, and publicly share their grievances. LuLaRich is an eye-opening look at how the Stidhams took advantage of susceptible folks. There’s a clear discriminatory pattern, including hiring women of a particular size and then holding them under their thumb. LaShae Kimbrough, LuLaRoe’s former home office employee, is one of the few Black employees. She talks about skipping the luxurious cruises because she didn’t want to be trapped with rich white women on a boat.
The abundance of docuseries—including true-crime shows like Tiger King and investigative works like Framing Britney Spears—allows for just a few days in the digital limelight before audiences move on to the next offering. Furst and Nason’s new series is bound to be a hotbed for memes, but while LuLaRich is entertaining and incisive, it will hopefully further the conversation on improving the economic and legal system to better support middle class workers in cases like this. The women here had to band together through an online group to discuss and expose wrongdoings, not unlike the subjects of Showtime’s Love Fraud. They were led to believe they could opt out when they wanted and return the inventory they’d fronted thousands of dollars to secure. But the company was more concerned with booking Kelly Clarkson for a conference than refunding hundred of thousands of dollars to the retailers who wanted to cut ties after realizing how toxic the corporate environment was.
In spite of the lawsuits (many of which have been settled), today it’s business as usual for LuLaRoe. DeAnne and Mark even celebrated their birthdays on private jets and hosted masquerade parties. The Stidhams still refuse to acknowledge any grievous mistakes. “I wish there wouldn’t have been the negativity,” DeAnne says toward the end of the docuseries. But that’s just one element of this riveting docuseries; LuLaRich begins with a focus on the sense of hope that LuLaRoe sold to its retailers, which now lies in tatters.