Chances are, someone you went to high school with has attempted to sell you something via Facebook.
They’ve asked you to come to their Arbonne party, or nudged you to host a Stella and Dot event, promising freebies for your good deed. Maybe someone’s pushed you to snap up canisters of their Juice Plus blended fruit and veggie juice powders. These are today’s Tupperware parties, and social media has provided another way for friends to push their product.
Now, womenswear company LuLaRoe is tapping into that — with modest leggings and dresses being sold to hungry consumers who treat each piece of clothing like a collector’s item.
Flip through a Facebook album advertising clothing from the brand, and you won’t find any miniskirts. In fact, if it weren’t for the explosive colors and mixed prints, one might suggest the clothing’s inspiration is HBO’s “Big Love” since you won’t see anything sleeveless or too far above the knee.
Opinions on the California-based brand can be polarizing. One detractor described it as “Strawberry Shortcake and Holly Hobby went to Coachella and made clothes.” But for those who are obsessed with the brand, LuLaRoe has become more than just a source of “buttery” leggings and casual wear. For some women, it’s become a vital source of income and a pathway to financial autonomy.
After years as a contemporary clothing buyer in the retail industry, Amy Lage found that constant travel and late nights at the office wasn’t meshing with childrearing. She quit but was soon itching to get back to fashion. That’s when a neighbor introduced her to LuLaRoe. Now, an entire room of Lage’s Beverly Farms home is dedicated to selling LuLaRoe, with shelves and racks of leggings and dresses in endless color combinations.
“People come several times a week to shop,” says Lage, who works every spare moment she gets. “My inventory is huge right now.”
LuLaRoe’s founder DeAnne Stidham was a single mom of seven children desperate to make ends meet. Always crafty, she met a pair of dress wholesalers and was inspired to start liquidating end-of-season dresses to friends and family. By 2013, she started LuLaRoe with her husband, Mark, in the hopes of giving other women a means to care for their families.
Like many other direct-sales companies, LuLaRoe often works through private home parties hosted by each “fashion consultant.” But social media has given these companies a new edge, where women can attend “parties” via Facebook while sitting at home.
“The parties are fun -- on Facebook, they are typically in the evening on a weekday -- when most moms are home and have put their kids to bed,” says Judith Forman of Salem. “Add in a glass of wine or two, and it’s basically the perfect night for many women.”
Though she initially was hesitant to buy into the trend (“I couldn’t imagine who would wear those crazy print leggings and oversized tops”) Forman now says she lives in the clothes.
“So many people, including myself, practically live in workout clothes outside of work,” says Forman. “These LuLaRoe clothes help us take it up one level.”
Unlike most other direct-sales companies, LuLaRoe’s fashion consultants each “own” their own inventory, which requires a significant initial investment. Christina Pierce of Back Bay wanted in on LuLaRoe so badly she sold her car to make the minimum requirement, which she says is around $5,500. She felt so confident about the product, Pierce says she spent around $10,000 initially.
But LuLaRoe’s corporate culture certainly isn’t for everyone. Pierce attended LuLaRoe’s “Inspire” tour, an optional training sessions in New York City, and was struck by the sight of a room filled with women dressed in colorful clothing, chanting to one another.
“It was 9 in the morning, and they were playing loud music and people were dancing,” says Pierce. “They were chanting ‘LULA-ROE, LULA-ROE’.”
Though initially hesitant, Pierce says she found the experience to be “very inspiring.” Later that afternoon, rapper Biz Markie came out on stage to rap for the women. He performed his hit song “Just a Friend,” a humorous sight in a room filled with mostly white middle-aged women singing along, dressed in bright floral patterns cut into modest designs, with not a sleeveless arm in sight.
That sense of modesty in LuLaRoe is hard to miss. Most people chalk it up to Stidham’s Mormon faith. But there’s also a clear spiritual component to the business. Slogans proclaiming how “blessed” fashion consultants are frequently creep up.
“A lot of the community will talked about how blessed we are to have LuLaRoe in our lives. You do hear a lot about being blessed,” says Pierce, adding that’s where the religion stops. “They do not pray. There is a cult following. But it’s not literal.”