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Perspective: I donned LuLaRoe leggings to write this piece

A new documentary makes clear the clothing company had major issues. But we shouldn’t forget the women who just want to work from home

Deanne and Mark Stidham, cofounders of LulaRoe, a multi-level marketing clothing company. LulaRoe’s rise and fall was captured in a new documentary, “LulaRich.”
Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

LuLaRoe leggings, as advertised, are buttery soft. I would know. I’m wearing some as I write this piece. Almost all of my pairs are just for around the house now because they’re peppered with holes, big and small. Who would have thought that leggings would be the centerpiece of one of the most popular documentaries in my social circles in 2021?

Anyone familiar with the rise and fall of LuLaRoe, a clothing company that broke the mold by using independent retailers to sell leggings and dresses, isn’t surprised.

I first heard about LuLaRoe through friends from high school who were selling them on Facebook. The company was founded by a hard-charging, middle-aged Latter-day Saint couple from California. But, the biggest draw for me, a perpetually pregnant or postpartum person, was that the clothes were forgiving for all body types. It was a win-win: I got clothes that looked and felt good, and I was able to support some struggling friends to stay afloat financially.

Years later, it looks increasingly like LuLaRoe did little to help these women; it was an enormous time-suck that maybe netted the families I knew a few hundred dollars. Some families, I’m sure, fared worse. Anecdotally, many were stuck in a perpetual cycle of buying more product from the company and selling it increasingly at a loss, as the clothing quality diminished and the market became saturated with more and more independent retailers.

The story of the brand’s remarkable trajectory — from a billion-dollar company with Katy Perry appearing at its events to one mired in dozens of lawsuits — is the subject of a new Amazon Prime four-part miniseries, “LulaRich.” But there’s another story woven within that of LuLaRoe: Mothers trying anything possible, willing to do anything necessary, to be able to stay home to raise their children and make ends meet.

In its description of the documentary, Amazon uses the term “work-from-home salvation,” and that’s exactly what women want: Salvation. And now, since COVID, it’s something women want more and more.

The mini series is presented for entertainment purposes, and is a cautionary tale about multi-level marketing companies. But on a societal and policy level, there’s a discussion we should be having about what women want and how we can best support them. As we move out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve come to understand just how limitless the possibilities are when it comes to working out of a traditional office and workspace.

While LuLaRoe retailers in large part lost money, the documentary suggests that the company’s failures were on the shoulders of the business leaders on top. One telling anecdote comes from a staff member who explained they kept accounting records on one giant, company-wide shared Excel spreadsheet, which at any given time had dozens of people editing.

The sales that independent retailers brought in were Herculean; and refreshingly, Amazon’s producers didn’t dunk on these stay-at-home mothers turned businesswomen. While they mocked the culture of “boss babe,” the women they actually interviewed were portrayed sympathetically.

After all, they sold a shocking number of leggings.

The series made clear just how much moms are capable of, even while working from home with kids underfoot. Their motivation wasn’t just a paycheck, but a way to do what they want more than anything: staying home with their kids.

As employers nationwide face a labor shortage beyond what our country has experienced outside of wartime, they should keep in mind these mothers hungry to work. They are an untapped talent resource looking for extra income in order to become home-based. Utilizing their potential would be a win-win.