Within the genre of true crime documentaries, pyramid schemes are the rarest of unicorns. They’re stories that lie in the in-between space of the Venn Diagram dominated by cults, money laundering, con artistry, and of course, the dark side of Mormonism. But, even knowing the kind of potential these multi-level-marketing sagas have, Amazon’s latest docuseries, LulaRich, still feels like an outlier. Why? Because, as batsh*t crazy as you think it’s going to be, it always finds new levels of lunacy.
Its basic premise is, “Look, more white people doing terrible things!” But, what elevates it is its characters, who aren’t as diverse in ethnicity as they are in their own sense of morality and what constitutes the “American Dream.” There’s DeAnne Stidham, a bubbly, purposefully harebrained housewife who found financial freedom by selling maxi skirts from the trunk of her car and wanted to “bless” others with the abundance that comes from cheap, stretchy fabrics (and pliable minds). Her husband, Mark, is a man who thinks the only thing worse than being flat broke is making just $400 a week for the rest of his life. It was his father’s driving motto and he’ll become unexpectedly verklempt anytime he repeats it on camera. They’re both Mormons so, naturally, they have enough children to fill an NFL team’s starting roster, and most of their offspring occupy positions in their multi-billion dollar company that they have absolutely no experience or training in. Of those 14 children, only two married each other, a brag Deanne and Mark make early in the four-part series as they uneasily laugh in front of unseen interviewers. “Isn’t almost-incest funny y’all?” Deanne’s wild-eyed stare seems to say.
And sure, this couple is, undoubtedly, the villain of the story filmmakers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason are trying to tell. They’re brightly patterned, highly-caffeinated overlords that read as almost cartoonish in their willful ignorance of the destruction they’ve left in their wake. But to truly understand what makes this docuseries the “Fyre Festival of online retail” you’ve really got to appreciate the various parts that make up its sum — the prosperity gospel preachers, the Tijuana Skinnies group chat members, the Mormons weaponizing oral sex, the fart-smelling leggings, and the unexpected heroes like LaShae Kimbrough and Derryl Trujillo, who somehow remained true to themselves (and avoided those company cruises) throughout it all.
These are our picks for the wildest highlights from the docuseries.
The story of LulaRoe doesn’t begin with the gaudily-designed leggings the company is now known for. In fact, Deanne apparently got her start pawning off maxi skirts to friends, family, and passersby on the highway before her business took off and she joined her husband in swindling housewives out of their dignity and hard-earned cash. But it’s the leggings that get the most airtime, product-wise. More importantly, it’s the way those leggings are talked about — first, almost reverentially, then, with a hate-filled contempt that seethes through the screen — that feels like one of the more fascinating parts of this series.
As a designer for the company says on-camera, hamburger prints ended up looking like “artistic vaginas,” poorly-placed city structures looked like penises. Bees might be crawling out of a woman’s crotch. And those are just the “defective” products, the leggings retailers point to when problems begin to arise within the company’s production chain. Some of the worst offenders were prints that women were shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to buy and then upsell, to their clientele. Pepperoni-pizza patterned pants. Multi-colored octopus prints. Unicorns with donuts. Count Dracula-themed monstrosities. White women may have just been freed from the tyranny of skinny jeans, but LulaRoe leggings were there to shackle them once more — this time with cotton-like sausage sleeves whose purpose was to remind stay-at-home-moms what season they were in.
When things turn sour in the doc, those defiantly grotesque leggings turn rancid. Too much product and not enough storage means some are sitting in an outside parking lot, playing shelter to some feral rats and leeching color in the hot California sun. They overwhelm retailers’ homes with a stench that makes one woman gag just thinking about it while others recall how the material began to thin and the patterns began to look off as DeAnne and Mark collected more disciples for their cult of white-woman tribal printed pants.
In perhaps the saddest moment of the whole series, former employee Stella Lemberg mourns the loss of her favorite comfort wear with this lament:
“The buttery soft legging that I fell in love with was getting thinner.”
The Tijuana Skinnies
How does South of the Border tummy tucks play a role in the downfall of an MLM retail company? Internalized patriarchal values, that’s how. Halfway through Amazon’s docuseries, photos and videos of DeAnne start to look different. She’s thinner, and she’s lost too much weight, too fast, but she’s getting compliments on her svelte new frame and encouraging her retailers to start selling more than just a rack of badly-stiched fabrics from JoAnn’s. She wants them to sell that model-thin American ideal of what a woman’s body should look like (while donning her nightmarish leggings), and she’s willing to bully them into getting cheap plastic surgery in another country to see her vision come to fruition. The Tijuana Skinnies group chat is introduced midway through the docuseries, once audiences have begun to already smell something fishy in DeAnne’s holy waters, but the reveal that she, along with her sister, pressured women into crossing the border to get a gastric sleeve that would effectively cut their stomach in half so that they could achieve her body dysmorphic fantasy is still shocking.
Isn’t forcing these women to encase their normal percentage of body fat into your tacky Mickey Mouse-covered tourniquets punishment enough, DeAnne?!
Washi Tape Becca
Becca Peter is a self-less internet crusader and the hero we didn’t know we needed. She sells fun, intricately patterned tape on Etsy, so she knows the rules of the online retail game well. And, perhaps because she sleeps easy at night knowing she’s not running a religiously-veiled grift, she has plenty of time and energy to devote to trolling the hell out of LulaRoe lovers. It’s amazing what boredom and access to the internet can help a person to accomplish and Becca proves this time and again, revealing she started looking up lawsuits against the company and documenting their bad practices simply because she needed a new hobby.
The Kelly Clarkson Boycott
Derryl Trujillo, a former data management worker for LulaRoe, ends his on-air testimony with a beautiful revenge fantasy. He dreams of one day grabbing a bite with all the other swindled employees at a restaurant across from the company’s headquarters. They’d be dining on the patio, sipping their drink of choice (a vodka cran full disclosure) and gleefully watching as federal agents repossess every computer and printer and ergonomically incorrect chair LulaRoe owns.
But we have a fantasy of our own. You see, Derryl used to be a Kelly Clarkson stan — we’d like to imagine he first vibed with “Behind These Hazel Eyes” — but when LulaRoe shelled out millions to book her for a concert meant to encourage more retailers to sign to their business model, the love he had for America’s sweetheart died. In the doc, Derryl mournfully admits he’s boycotting the singer — a shame since, as he says, he “really loved” her music. So our dream is that this rift between the Texan talk show host and the man who unironically quotes the best of the Star Trek storylines while promising to vanquish his Mormon overlords one day may finally be healed.
Your move, Kelly.
Cruising With Caucasians
LaShae Kimbrough is a force of a woman, a fashion maven who (rightly) balks at being told her luxury Chanel just isn’t on-brand for a LulaRoe employee on her first day on the job. She saw through the bullsh*t Mark and DeAnne spewed, she knew onboarding hundreds of retailers per day wasn’t sustainable, she recognized why storing cages full of leggings in the company parking lot might be bad for business. So, when she was eventually invited on the VIP cruises DeAnne and Mark threw for top-level performers within LulaRoe, she eschewed the initial premise of every horror movie we’ve ever seen and made the right decision: to say no to being on a boat in the middle of the ocean with too many white people.
Jordan Peele would be proud.
‘LuLaRich’ is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.