Before taking the stage on what would end up being his first day at a new job, the crowd started chanting Elijah Tucker’s first name. Clad in a pair of bright-yellow patterned spandex pants, an oversized cream-colored T-shirt, and white tube socks in place of leg warmers, he started dancing in front of an almost entirely white — and extremely enthusiastic — audience. By the time he finished popping-and-locking to the songs of Michael Jackson, they were on their feet, cheering as if their favorite celebrity had just made a surprise cameo.
The previous day, Tucker was on a family vacation, enjoying the sun, dancing to a neighboring beachgoer’s playlist of Jackson’s greatest hits. Upon seeing Tucker’s moves, the man playing the music approached him. “He said, ‘Hey — if I give you $100, will you wear some female leggings and come and do the same thing you just did tomorrow morning at this business meeting?’” Tucker recalls.
Excited about the prospect of earning some money while doing what he loved, Tucker agreed, and showed up the next day ready to dance. “The whole atmosphere was full of overwhelming joy and excitement,” he said of his first experience at a LuLaRoe corporate event in an interview featured in The Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe, a documentary on the multilevel marketing (MLM) company which premiered Monday, Dec. 13 on discovery+.
But along with the boundless positivity, Tucker also noticed something else about the people involved with LuLaRoe. “Being on stage and looking out in the audience — everybody was twins,” he said in the documentary. “Not gonna lie: everybody had that joy on, and everyone was rocking leggings.”
And it wasn’t only their outfits that lacked diversity. “Being Black at LuLaRoe,” Tucker said with a glint in his eye, while pausing for effect, “…was great!” But following his tongue-in-cheek remark, his tone turns serious. “I may have gotten taken advantage of a few times,” he recalled. “I definitely endured some sort of racism.”
Although it comes only three months after the release of LuLaRich (Amazon’s docuseries on the purveyor of leggings and false hope), The Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe sets itself apart by focusing almost exclusively on those who got involved with the MLM. Most notably, this includes a look at the roles people of color play at various levels — from the independent sales consultants, to the factory workers and event planners, and finally, the customers (or, more accurately, the lack thereof).
For Tucker — the high-energy millennial with the killer dance moves — LuLaRoe became a family affair when, at a company event, one of the founders surprised him by making his mother Sharon an independent consultant (meaning that she’s permitted to sell their clothing). It wasn’t long before his sister signed up to be a LuLaRoe rep as well.
But African Americans, like the members of the Tucker family, aren’t the norm at LuLaRoe — they’re the exception. Or, they’re what Vivian Kaye, a business coach and entrepreneur interviewed for the documentary (with no affiliation with LuLaRoe), describes as “seasoning” for a company she says targets “middle-aged white women in middle America.”
In addition to having the occasional woman of color on stage at a LuLaRoe event, Kaye says that the MLM relies heavily on the use of Black vernacular to appear more relatable — a comment that, in the film, is immediately followed by a supercut of white sales reps greeting their social media followers with an enthusiastic “hey girl, hey!”
“That’s fine, if you want to use Black vernacular — I’m not the vernacular police,” Kaye explained in an interview in the film. “But it’s not reflected in their downline. It’s not reflected on their stages when they hold these major events. I have a problem with it because they’re using the Black vernacular to profit, but we’re not profiting off of it because we’re only there for seasoning, so that they could tell the world ‘Yes, we’re diverse.’”
What’s more, Black former LuLaRoe consultants, including Sharon Tucker, say in the documentary that they didn’t have the advantage of being able to count on sales from their family and other members of their social circles.
“That really struck me when I would sell my product: Black people would shut the door in my face — I promise you,” Sharon said in the documentary. “And I have neighbors, people, church family, friends. My daughter said the clothing wasn’t their style. I guess they didn’t like the clothing.”
Meanwhile, after his crowd-pleasing performance at the company event during his family vacation, Tucker was offered a position on the LuLaRoe events team, serving as both a hype man and entertainer at their conferences. And then there was his unofficial role: “I was the unicorn of LuLaRoe, [and] you best believe I rode that train,” he said in the documentary. “I tooted my horn and everything, because yeah — it wasn’t diverse at all.”
In response to the documentary, as well as specific questions on the role of people of color in the company and Tucker’s allegation of racism, Eric Knighton, executive marketing officer for LuLaRoe, emailed a statement to Rolling Stone, stressing that the company has “empowered tens of thousands of Independent Fashion Retailers to build their own businesses,” though, of course, “results will vary.”
“At LuLaRoe, our mission is, and will continue to be, centered around helping women all over the world feel beautiful, confident, and worthy of the dreams they set out to achieve,” they wrote. “There’s no greater reward for us than to see someone smile when they find themselves serving others in an effort to improve lives.”
Though Tucker ultimately chose to leave the company, he says that despite the overall lack of diversity at LuLaRoe, and feeling that he experienced racism at work, he was, for a time, willing to put up with it. “I’m where I wanted to be,” he explained in the documentary. “I’m living my dream, and I’ve dealt with [racism] in my life. It’s nothing new. It’s gonna to be everywhere you go like, there’s always somebody that hates you. I was so grateful for the opportunity just to be there.”