Why MLMs Like LuLaRoe Are Disturbingly Just like Cults

DeAnne and Mark Stidham, the cofounders of LuLaRoe

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

LuLaRoe, the multi-level-marketing (MLM) firm that has recruited tens of 1000’s of ladies to hawk its athleisure put on over the previous decade, touts itself as an agent of feminine empowerment. It lures in sellers, a lot of whom are stay-at-home mothers, with the promise of independence, inviting them to “be your individual boss,” “obtain your desires,” and “take again management of your time and your life” by turning into a LuLaRoe retailer, in line with one recruitment web page. In actuality, LuLaRoe thrives not by giving girls management, however by wielding it over them—a truth made disturbingly clear in LuLaRich, Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason’s new, four-part Amazon docuseries chronicling how LuLaRoe has abused, manipulated, and exploited its workforce since its inception in 2012.

In keeping with allegations from former retailers interviewed in LuLaRich, co-founders DeAnne and Mark Stidham dominated over their sellers’ lives. They inspired sellers to enter debt. They pressured sellers to get weight reduction surgical procedure. They requested sellers to persuade their husbands to give up their jobs, and urged them to speculate their households’ total monetary portfolios into the corporate. When anybody complained—about their lack of ability to show a revenue, faulty product they obtained, or their uneasiness with sure facets of the group—they have been instructed they have been weak and lazy, gaslit into believing that they, not LuLaRoe, have been the supply of any issues they confronted. If sellers needed to depart the corporate, they have been typically pressured to take a multi-thousand-dollar loss—and in the event that they did stroll away, the Stidhams forbade those that remained at LuLaRoe from talking to them, leaving them remoted, misplaced, and infrequently destitute. (In a press release to the Guardian, the Stidhams denied the allegations made in LuLaRich, and asserted that LuLaRoe “was by no means a rip-off, however a meritocratic ladder reflective of non-public effort and character.”)

In allegedly deploying these ways, LuLaRoe functioned much less like an organization and extra like a cult, in line with Rick Alan Ross, a number one knowledgeable on cults and the founder and govt director of the Cult Schooling Institute. LuLaRich raises that comparability—principally via the testimony of 1 former retailer featured within the docuseries—but it surely doesn’t delve too deep into it. 

In an effort to additional discover LuLaRoe’s cult-like traits, VICE referred to as up Ross, who walked us via the parallels between LuLaRoe and lots of the organizations he’s spent his profession learning. In keeping with Ross, LuLaRoe isn’t a one-of-kind case. All too typically, he defined, MLMs pull straight from the cult playbook to recruit and retain the folks whose lives they eat. 

VICE: Would you name LuLaRoe a cult?
Rick Alan Ross:
There are three core standards that make one thing a damaging cult. Primary—and that is a very powerful function—you’ve gotten an absolute totalitarian chief who has no significant accountability, who turns into an object of worship. Regardless of the chief says is true is true, regardless of the chief says is improper is improper, and folks will activate a dime primarily based on what the chief says. I do not actually see that in LuLaRoe. There’s a specific amount of worship of Mark and DeAnne, however to not the extent that it was with Keith Raniere [the head of NXIVM] or Jim Jones [the head of the Peoples Temple] or David Koresh [the head of the Branch Davidians]. 

The second is brainwashing: The power to control folks right into a place of undue affect the place you possibly can exploit them. I feel LuLaRoe did that. Did they do it to the intense of a damaging cult? Perhaps not. However then there are some cults which might be much less excessive than others. So I feel they did use manipulation—and in my view, they did it knowingly. 

Third: Did they damage folks? Completely. In order that they may very well be seen as a damaging group in that sense. I would not go as far as calling it a cult. I’d name it cult-like.

What components of LuLaRoe appear notably cult-like to you?
One of many issues that struck me was that in the event you depart, [they are] going to inform folks which might be consultants that they cannot discuss to you anymore. If a corporation makes you’re feeling that you are a horrible individual for leaving, after which they go a step additional and so they say in the event you depart, you may be a pariah, and [they] is not going to permit your mates that right here to proceed to speak with you—that sort of management over communication between the folks inside versus the folks exterior, that is very cult-like.

One other factor about LuLaRoe that could be very cult-like is that DeAnne and Mark by no means take duty for something. They blame the sufferer: “If your online business is not working, it’s since you’re lazy.” The underlying assumption is that the marketing strategy is ideal—but it surely was flawed. That’s just like Scientology. For instance: “I am doing all my auditing counseling periods, and I’ve taken all these programs. Why do not I’ve what you mentioned I’d have?” “Properly, since you’re not doing it proper. As a result of there’s by no means a flaw in what we’re doing. We’re excellent.” I hear plenty of that from DeAnne and Mark. 

Broadly talking, what are another parallels between cults and MLMs, apart from what you’ve already talked about?
For one, the social isolation that folks might expertise in an MLM. They dedicate all their time to the MLM, and so they change into encapsulated in a subculture of like-minded people who find themselves always reinforcing the message of the MLM. And so they’re not listening to different views, they don’t seem to be getting correct suggestions. That sort of isolation and management of data is a parallel between many MLMs and cults. By way of the web and social media, they create a man-made bubble of data management. I can sit right here, and I am not in a cult compound. However I could be watching YouTube movies time and again, getting indoctrinated by some loopy cult on YouTube. If I am following solely LuLaRoe folks on Instagram, Twitter, and Fb, and I am watching their stuff on YouTube, I’m immersed. All I am listening to and experiencing is what the MLM desires me to expertise. And the MLMs can use that to extract cash.

[Another parallel] is the propensity for folks in an MLM in charge themselves slightly than to query the MLM. That sort of self blaming, self loathing, and shaming—making the individual really feel that they’re in charge for something unhealthy that occurs to them—could be very cult-like. The individuals who find yourself actually damage by this, they’re so laborious on themselves. You do not hear them saying issues like, “DeAnne is a dirtbag,” or “Mark is a malevolent miscreant.” What you hear them saying is, “Disgrace on me. How might I give them a lot cash? I’m unhealthy.” No, you are not. If that they had come to you and instructed you what their marketing strategy actually was, you’ll have mentioned, “Get out of my home.”

And simply the entire thought of exploiting folks for the advantage of an elite management. That sort of exploitation is typical in damaging cults. What you see in MLMs is folks giving up their careers for the MLM, marriages being destroyed by the MLM, dropping their financial savings, their retirement funds, their properties—all of that is the sort of harm that I see being accomplished not solely by MLMs, however by cults. So the destructiveness, the propensity of the group to only use and abuse folks, after which make them suppose that they are in charge—that is very cult-like. 

What are a number of the similarities between the ways in which cults recruit and the methods MLMs recruit?
One is the usage of what’s been referred to as “love-bombing.” You initially come into an MLM and everyone’s very loving, very upbeat, very constructive. They’re making you’re feeling that everyone loves you and that you’ve all these new associates and that all the things’s going to be nice. That can be typical of many cults: They make you’re feeling such as you’ve discovered this household, this group of people that will love you unconditionally. It’s a complete lie. For those who depart the MLM [or the cult], they’re all going to say, “We’re accomplished with you. No extra communication.” So these friendships that you just’re pondering, My God, these persons are improbable, they’re variety, they’re loving, they’re constructive—it is all conditional. And so they’re not telling you that.

One other factor is simply the deception. It is a bait-and-switch con. [In an MLM], you are being instructed that this can be a manner so that you can change into wealthy and profitable and impartial in the identical manner that cults will inform folks, “We’re right here that will help you acknowledge your potential and have a fantastic life.” There are all these guarantees being made. And there is this deception that’s deliberate, which is to withhold the disturbing facets of the group—for instance, the calls for that the group might make, which is able to escalate over a time period. They don’t seem to be going to let you know that you just might need to lose 100 kilos. You are going to have to decorate the way in which we would like you to decorate. You are going to should sacrifice your marriage in case your husband is not supportive of what we’re doing. And, by the way in which, you will have to sacrifice some huge cash earlier than you possibly can understand any success, and it’s possible you’ll be worn out. And we do not care. They don’t seem to be going to let you know any of that from the start. And so folks will say, “Properly, why would anybody be a part of an MLM or a cult that would damage them?” And the reply is as a result of they deceive the folks that they are recruiting, and so they’re misleading. And so they intentionally mislead folks to imagine that fairly the other of what is going on to occur will occur. 

What are a number of the similarities between the way in which cults and MLMs retain recruits?
Numerous these persons are sort of like a rat operating on a wheel. Regardless of how laborious they work, and irrespective of how a lot they attempt to do all the things proper, the group will inform them they’re nonetheless doing one thing improper. And they also’re on this state of brokenness, and that makes them simpler to control. In damaging cults, I typically see that: Regardless of how a lot the person accomplishes for the group, and irrespective of how laborious they reside to the group’s dictates, the group will all the time level out what they’re doing improper. And that engenders dependency upon the group. I feel that is what LuLaRoe did. They made it appear that DeAnne and Mark and the actually high-ranking consultants, they’ve the components, they’ve the solutions, and the remainder of these those who have been typically feeling exhausted and damaged would then change into increasingly more dependent upon the MLM and the leaders to repair them, to assist them. In that sense, there is a commonality with cults. 

Traditionally, has there been any literal overlap between MLMs and cults?
Cults will typically purchase into an MLM. I’ve seen that quite a few instances. There was this group referred to as Folks Limitless, and they might promote nutritional vitamins and totally different MLMs. (Word: Folks Limitless denies that it’s a cult.) [As a cult leader,] you’ve got obtained lots of of individuals which might be following you that can do no matter you say. So that you say, “OK, all of you guys join and change into distributors.” And I’ve instantly obtained lots of of individuals under me. 

Keith Raniere first plied his expertise as a grasp manipulator because the creator of an MLM. He was an Amway distributor, after which he realized, Properly, hey, I would like my very own MLM. So he created Customers’ Buyline. And what he discovered was there was this core group of ladies that he recruited in Customers’ Buyline that grew to become extra than simply distributors. They have been like his slaves. That grew to become the impetus behind the creation of what later grew to become referred to as NXIVM. What Raniere realized via his time as an MLM creator is the ability of persuasion, the ability of manipulation. After which in the event you have been a [NXIVM] coach, you recruited different coaches. For those who had 10 folks that you just recruited to educate beneath you that every one took NXIVM programs—which have been fairly costly—in principle, you’ll get a bit of the cash that generated. What you noticed with NXIVM was the construction of an MLM with Raniere on the high, and he grew to become an object of worship, and he reworked it from simply an MLM right into a cult. 

LuLaRoe nonetheless exists, and 1000’s of sellers nonetheless work for the corporate. Do you suppose LuLaRich would possibly lead some folks concerned with LuLaRoe to depart the group?
It is going to serve a helpful function, each to get folks to depart and get folks not to enroll. However till the legal guidelines are modified in the USA in order that MLMs are tougher to create, there’ll nonetheless be these MLMs and they’ll nonetheless benefit from folks. I imply, take a look at all of the unhealthy press Amway has gotten. You suppose Amway is not creating wealth? No, they’re creating wealth hand over fist. Documentaries are nice. It is fantastic that they make them. However the one option to actually cease MLMs is to alter the legislation. 

Comply with Drew Schwartz on Twitter.

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