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Perhaps you were invited to a friend’s online pop-up, and found yourself immediately immersed in the brightly colored cult of LuLaRoe. When you get there — virtually, that is — you feel like you’ve been transported to an entirely different planet. You don’t understand the language, the rules are unfamiliar, and brightly colored dresses are being auctioned like rare pieces of art. In a 21st century update of the Tupperware party, LuLaRoe is winning over thousands of women across the world.
Founded in 2012, LuLaRoe’s comfortable and brightly colored clothing is rapidly gaining cult status, built almost entirely through the power of social media. Unlike most clothing lines, LuLaRoe pieces cannot be tried on or purchased at a department store or boutique. Instead, they’re sold to independent consultants (a la Mary Kay or Amway) who market these dresses, leggings, and tops directly to consumers.
LuLaRoe’s success is due in large part to their leggings. Frequently described as "buttery," brand enthusiasts contend that LuLaRoe’s leggings are the best in the world. They’re soft, durable, and thick enough to be worn as pants, especially with one of LuLaRoe’s long tops or cardigans. Popular with everyone from working moms to college students, LuLaRoe’s leggings have helped launched a brand from relative obscurity to cult ubiquity.
The Beginning & How It Works
In 2012, DeAnne Stidham was a working mom looking for a way to stay at home with her kids. Combining her background in network-based marketing (a.k.a. direct sales) and the excess inventory of two dress wholesalers sold on her vision, Stidham founded what would eventually become LuLaRoe. In the beginning, Stidham sold surplus dresses to friends and family, and eventually, began working on her own clothing line.
Stidham also had another principle in mind when she founded LuLaRoe: modesty. As a member of the Mormon faith, Stidham wanted to create comfortable clothing that was also modest for women who were unsatisfied with clothing options at traditional retailers. LuLaRoe is incredibly popular in the modesty movement, though the promise of comfortable, durable, reasonably priced clothing has proved appealing to women of all religious stripes.
Stidham also makes it clear that her business model is directly intended to benefit women just like her — stay-at-home moms and those who wish to be. Described as an "exclusive clothing line," LuLaRoe argues that it does not sell to retailers in order to encourage women to run their own businesses. As such, LuLaRoe is comprised of thousands of independent consultants, each of whom operate their businesses independently.
Because LuLaRoe treats its consultants like boutique owners instead of salespeople, each consultant has to front up to $6,000 to start their business. "I heard rumblings of these leggings and was invited to a party," says Kathleen, a LuLaRoe consultant living in Maryland. "I guess because it’s comfortable and affordable, it’s easy to get addicted. The investment was a concern, but I did my research and could just see that there was such a frenzy over it that I looked at the cost benefit and thought it was an excellent opportunity."
That frenzy doesn’t show signs of dying down anytime soon. It is difficult to confirm because LuLaRoe has not released any official numbers about their profits or the number of consultants on their roster, and repeated requests for comment from the company went ignored, but many consultants report that the past few months have been some of LuLaRoe’s most successful, and that the growth is expected to continue.
The famous leggings, made from polyester and spandex, are thick and stretchy and sold in only two sizes: one size for straight size customers, and "tall & curvy" for plus-size buyers. At $25 per pair, the leggings are described by customers as "the best leggings ever."
Once buyers have been converted into "LuLaLovers," though, many find other pieces fit in with their personal style. LuLaRoe offers a variety of styles, including the "Cassie," a soft and stretchy pencil skirt, the "Irma," a free-flowing top that’s perfect for wearing with leggings, and the "Amelia," a skater dress of sorts with a high neckline and knee-length hem. Like the leggings, all other LuLaRoe pieces are produced in limited run prints, which creates the brand’s "unicorns."
Each print is produced in runs as limited as 2,500 pieces, which creates high demand for certain styles. On eBay, it’s not uncommon to find listings for "unicorn" LuLaRoe leggings that are selling for double or triple their original retail value. One pair that featured a print resembling stained glass recently sold on the auction site for $70, a steep increase from the $25 retail price tag. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to LuLaRoe enthusiasts seeking help hunting their unicorns, and plenty of helpful shoppers willing to assist.
Many enthusiasts find that these pieces make them feel better about their own bodies thanks to forgiving cuts and plenty of stretch. "I basically used to dress only so that I wasn’t naked at work," says LuLaRoe consultant Leah Nicole. "Now, when I get dressed for work in the morning, I feel like a completely different person. It makes me feel much prettier than I usually do. I feel so much prettier as a short, curvy woman in LuLaRoe."
The Business Of LuLaRoe
LuLaRoe has not made the number of consultants in its employ public, but consultants report that current internal company estimates hover between 12,000 and 13,000 working consultants in the United States. Each entity operates as an individual business owner, responsible for maintaining inventory, marketing, shipping, and other logistics. Once a consultant has made their initial investment with LuLaRoe, they receive their pieces and can begin to sell.
For Kathleen, the vast majority of her sales take place online, which requires a great deal of Facebook marketing. LuLaRoe is most often sold in Facebook pop-up parties. During the "party," eager buyers are added to groups where items are going on sale. The LuLaRoe consultant uploads photos of the items available to the Facebook group, answers questions, and offers assistance. Buyers stake their claim to a desired item by commenting "want" or "sold" on its photo, and then receive an email invoice from Audrey, LuLaRoe’s proprietary payment processing service.
Each pop-up has a "hostess" in addition to their LuLaRoe consultant. The hostess is responsible for inviting friends to their online party — friends who are hopefully interested in purchasing LuLaRoe. At Kathleen’s parties, the hostess earns a free pair of leggings for every 10 items they sell, and can earn pricier items (like dresses) with more sales. The parties also have a social component, often featuring giveaways and icebreaker games that encourage fellow LuLaRoe enthusiasts to interact with each other via Facebook comments. "It brings people together because shopping online can be a very cold experience," says Kathleen. "Puts a human touch on it."
LuLaRoe also includes an at-home component. Like the Tupperware party of old, consultants can encourage friends to host parties, where they can sell the leggings and dresses while introducing the brand to new buyers. The at-home parties offer a distinct advantage for new LuLaRoe customers, who can’t try on the items they want before buying. Many LuLaRoe consultants accept returns, but some buyers don’t want to deal with the hassle.
At-home parties create challenges for consultants, however, who are responsible for packing their LuLaRoe clothing, dress racks, and other equipment to another person’s house. As such, Leah Nicole, a new LuLaRoe consultant living in Chicago, has come up with a uniquely creative situation that allows her buyers to experience the best of both worlds — an at-home LuLaRoe boutique.
"I work full time, so it’s more of a challenge for me to pack it all into my car and haul it to someone’s house," she says. "My husband sacrificed our guest bedroom so that I can have a LuLaRoe room where people can shop. They won’t have to worry about cleaning their house, they’ll just come to my house, we’ll open a couple bottles of wine, and we’ll shop. I even have an outdoor cabana that I set up in my living room so that people have privacy to try things on."
The rapid spike in LuLaRoe’s popularity over the past several months has created some challenges for the company. In March, a rush of consultants seeking to start their LuLaRoe businesses slowed the onboarding process to a trickle, which meant that many enthusiastic consultants had to wait weeks (with their $6,000 investment in hand) to join the company. At present, that wait hovers around twelve weeks.
"I was told that the number of items they shipped in February had tripled from the end of the year to that point," says Leah Nicole. "You have to order a good amount of time before you ship because they actually have to make the clothes, and LuLaRoe didn’t have the number of pieces coming in from their manufacturers to support the expansion that they saw in March."
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Also challenging is the issue of sales tax. Because many LuLaRoe consultants do a majority of their business online, buyers from states where there is no sales tax may be forced to pay up to 8% on items they purchase from consultants. "The tax thing can be really annoying," says Kathleen. "People’s concerns with that are legitimate. If someone from Delaware buys from me instead of someone in their state, they’re paying me 6%. That’s not fair."
The question of quality and consistency in their product is also one that LuLaRoe may soon have to address, particularly in their plus-size items. In many LuLaRoe shopping groups, users frequently search for leggings made in China or Mexico because they’re cut more generously than leggings made in Vietnam. In the dresses, fabrics vary and some are less stretchy than others, which makes them run small.
Considering that there are likely hundreds of future LuLaRoe consultants waiting to be admitted and hundreds more waiting for their first shipments, the success of LuLaRoe shows no signs of slowing down. Tens of thousands of LuLaRoe enthusiasts flock to Facebook groups every day to purchase the latest prints, search for their unicorns, and scope out the inventory of consultants across the country.
As with any business, the key question for LuLaRoe’s independent consultants is the issue of profitability. Both new to LuLaRoe, neither Kathleen nor Leah Nicole have yet to turn a profit. But both of them see economic security on the horizon, largely because they’ve been spending most of the money they’ve made on reinvesting in their business — buying new inventory, seeking new marketing strategies, and in Leah’s case, building her own at-home boutique.
"If you really do a great job and really work, my sponsor told me, you can make your money back in a month. Most people it’s probably three or four months," says Kathleen. "As my profits come in, I quickly just buy. I’ve spent $14,000 so far, and I’ve only been doing this for one month. I started at $6,000, almost tripled that, and I’m $4,000 in the red. It’s not bad to spend $14,000 in and only be in the negative $4,000 one month later. If I slow down my purchasing, which I plan to do, I’ll come out ahead in the next few weeks."
Other consultants are making cash much more quickly. In November, a Florida mom told her local news station that she was making between $1,000 and $3,000 per LulaRoe pop-up party. Online LuLaRoe blogs are replete with stories of women making upwards of $5,000 per party. These numbers are nigh impossible to confirm, but one thing is clear: there are plenty of women who see LuLaRoe as a highly profitable business opportunity.
Direct sales companies have long been criticized for selling their consultants a product without providing a path to financial success, but that seemingly doesn’t apply to LuLaRoe. Time will tell whether or not LuLaRoe will continue to grow at such a dramatic pace, but it presently shows no signs of slowing down. And for the company’s thousands of consultants, who are happy to evangelize the virtues of these soft, highly-collectable leggings and forgiving, versatile separates, LuLaRoe sells itself.