I’ve been trying to write this post for months now, but every time I’d get close I felt like the subject matter – women, mothers, feminism, multi-level marketing was so huge and amorphous that I’d give up, defeated, not knowing where to start. So, I was pathetically grateful when Kate Dyson of The Motherload agreed to join me in tackling this subject and wrote her post, “Is Network Marketing a Cult for Mums”. You can read it here. Between the two of us, we’ve tried to split the issue up into the most important parts that we think need to be highlighted.
I remember when my daughter was first born. Up until then, she’d been an abstract idea in my mind, not quite real. Then she was born, and I fell in love with her. For the first years of her life I decided I wanted to be with her as much as possible, helped by the fact I couldn’t earn enough money to pay for childcare and a heap of hormones. I did other things: worked part time in a shop, wrote a screenplay, to make money where I could.
It became clear very quickly that if you’re a woman who wants to stay home with your kids that not many mainstream political or activist groups will support you. That choice makes you a ‘traditional’ woman (even if you’re not) – I’m not, and I felt no similarities between why I wanted to stay home and why the conservative religious groups who appeared to support women like me thought I should. You don’t speak for me, I’d think. I WANT to earn my own money. But most feminist-oriented groups supported better childcare not the option to stay home. Which left me and many women like me in a bind. We needed to invent our own ways.
So, we did. Many of my friends became “mumpreneurs’ and tried to start businesses that fit in around their kids, with varying levels of success. Others gave up and went back to their jobs, signing their children onto endless childcare waitlists and in some cases, having to accept sub-standard care. For the rest of us, the only money-making ‘opportunities’ that seemed flexible & available to women like us were in pyramid form: Stella & Dot, Younique, LulaRoe, or many others.
I was invited to a Stella & Dot party and out of obligation bought a necklace. I went through a huge Stella & Dot phase. “It’s to help out (insert name of fellow SAHM here)” I told my husband, convincing myself I was doing a good deed, helping a fellow Mum make money while staying home with her kids. Really, I just liked spending money and getting out of the house. However, like a lot of MLM products, the expensive jewellery didn’t live up to the hype. Within weeks something I’d paid 100 dollars for was chipping and flaking. For the first time I wondered how legit this ‘business’ really was. I’d been told the jewellery was of high quality, but it clearly wasn’t.
Before long my SAHM friends were bailing on Stella & Dot and moving onto another MLM, a pattern that turned out to be typical. One of them hounded me for weeks to have a party for my friends – I thought about it but something about the way she talked put me off. I now know, thanks to the stories and research we’ve done in Timeless Vie, that her approach was scripted – she claimed she only had a certain number of ‘spots available’ and I had to book now to ensure she was available. This pressure tactic, I have learned, is typical of MLM bots. They don’t want to give you too much time to think. Not long after I backed out I learned she had dropped out. I still hope she didn’t lose too much money. She had 3 kids.
The more we’ve learned about MLM, the darker it is, and the harder it is not to come to the conclusion that the whole thing is deliberate: the targeting of mothers, the refusal to investigate the industry by government, the smoke & mirrors that make it so difficult to find out how much women ACTUALLY earn.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE MORMONS.
I really, really, REALLY don’t want to talk about the Mormons.
It’s not an anti-religious thing for me. I really could not care less what or who people worship.
But when it’s obvious many MLMs are set up in Utah and run by people who appear to be devout Mormons well then WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS. It is time to talk about the massive, Mormon-shaped elephant in the room.
First, let’s start with this: that there are so many MLM companies in Utah that they have started their OWN “Direct Sales Association”. Some of our fave MLMs like Younique, Maelle & Ariix have won awards there.
These MLMs talk the language of female empowerment, of spiritual enlightenment, but are they really interested in empowering women? For a start, there’s the Mormon religion itself. We discussed this previously here in a blog about the founders of Younique. First, a note: I do not claim to know how all Mormons believe or feel, because like any religious community I’m sure there’s a wide range of belief and faith.
That said, there are very clear, very traditional gender roles encouraged in the Mormon church, and arguably that’s part of the reason why MLMs are so encouraged – because they allow women to ‘stay home’ in their traditional roles while appearing to be ‘making money’. I say “appearing to be” deliberately because there is very little independent data to prove they actually ARE making money.
It’s not like the IMF (the International Monetary Fund) is screaming from the rooftops about how amazing MLM companies are for women. They’re not. They think we need better childcare, they think that women are suffering from economic inequality, and they think these issues are ECONOMIC issues that are holding everyone back. If the founders of MLMs want to empower women economically, why don’t they join hands with labour groups, feminist groups, etc to fight for better childcare? More flexible jobs? You know why.
The other thing? One of the questions we have is where all the money is going and whether it’s going to fund the LDS churches’ political activities, many of which might be opposed to the economic empowerment of women outside of traditional gender roles.
THE EMPOWERED YOUNIQUE PRESENTERS OF STOKE-ON-TRENT
Let’s take Younique as an example. Younique aims to validate, empower, and uplift women. Maybe they do, but again, there’s no real data to prove this claim one way or the other. So I decided to have a crack at it.
I don’t have a lot of time, I work and have a family, so I decided to work with what is publically available. The rest of the TV team suggested I concentrate on a part of the UK that’s more economically deprived and appears to have a large number of MLM schemes in operation: Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke-on-Trent has a pretty high number of people on benefits and a very high number of people who have been forced to declare bankruptcy, compared to the rest of the UK.
Using Younique’s presenter map, I worked out roughly how many Younique presenters there were in the area. Note: since “Stoke-on-Trent” doesn’t have clear boundaries on the Younique map I just picked out women roughly in and around Stoke.
Total number of Younique bots: 52. Of these, 2 were Green Status (elite), 4 were Pink, 13 were Yellow, and 33 were White, the lowest status.
To maintain White Status, a presenter has to generate $125 USD every 3 months in “personal retail sales” to stay active. 125 USD according to the Travelex Currency exchange website on 22 April 2017 is £88.88. For Yellow Status a presenter must have generated $1000 USD, which = £711 pounds. For pink, it’s all that plus £177.75 PLUS sponsoring 1 white status presenter. For Green it’s £355.50 plus sponsoring 3 white status presenters. Note: there’s much more to the plan than this, this is just the basics. Note: “sponsoring” = “recruiting” women into their team. We made a video about that here:
All the Younique Presenters are women.
All can recruit or sell from anywhere.
Most of them were White Status, which is the lowest status at the bottom of the triangle.
Here’s how Younique’s empowerment plan was working:
I figured out the total amount paid into Younique by the 52 presenters came to at least £17,186.04. That includes £69 for the presenter kit. Reminder: this is in a deprived area. We can’t be sure where much of this money is going, or how much of it is from presenters themselves rather than actual sales, but we are fairly sure much of the money flowing OUT of Stoke-on-Trent to people higher up the Younique compensation plan.
The total amount paid by White Status presenters for starter kits is: £2277. To stay active for 3 months it’s £2933.04 for a total of £5210.04. I decided to concentrate on White Status presenters as they are a. the most common and b. the ‘bottom’ of the MLM triangle so more representative of a typical rep.
Then, I searched up each presenter on Facebook to see what I could discover about their success or failure from social media. Blank spaces mean I couldn’t find any info.
|Presenter Name||Starter Kit||minium £ to stay active||Comments||Extra Comments|
|Presenter 3||69||88.88||downline to StokeonTrent Yellow Status presenter, does not appear to be active|
|Presenter 8||69||88.88||Has younique FB profile (Presenter 8 younique) with 184 friends. Very few likes or responses. All the likes are from other younique presenters in other countries.|
|Presenter 11||69||88.88||friends with Stokeontrent Green Status Presenter. Has a facebook group called Presenter11makeup by younique with 154 members. Seems to be recruiting etc back in Poland. Runs raffles to get rid of makeup. She sells raffle tickets for 2 pounds each to people saying they can ‘win’ 100 pounds of younique makeup. For one raffle she sold 8 tickets = 16 pounds which means a loss of 70 pounds on the makeup.|
|Presenter 13||69||88.88||has FB group with 16 members. Shows Younique Makeup as “free” then a link to her online shopping party. No response, though 8 people have seen it. No responses or likes to any of her posts.|
|Presenter 14||69||88.88||has fb page with 18 likes. Endless posts, no comments likes or shares.|
|Presenter 17||69||88.88||friends with elite green status younique member|
|Presenter 18||69||88.88||has FB page with 13 likes. Also has a closed group with 65 members for younique selling|
|Presenter 21||69||88.88||Presenter 21 had an online party and made 151.00 pts. The only contributor to the party was Presenter 21. At this level Presenter 21 wouldn’t have made any money at all as party points don’t count until 200 pt. Has been trying to recruit since Jan 2017, no takers, no likes on her posts etc. on FB. Has a FB page with 21 likes. Posting about 79 pound younique products with no likes or takers. Lives and videos with only a few views. Has been trying to get to yellow status since she re-joined in January, still hasn’t managed it, still posting up a storm in April.||2x 102 pounds to stay active = 204 pounds she’s spent to stay in at LEAST.|
|Presenter 24||69||88.88||has facebook page, 40 people have liked it. Attempts to recruit etc. no response.|
|Presenter 27||69||88.88||14 likes of her page. Last post asked people to comment if they wanted a free liquid foundation. No one commented. She had an online party and made 44.00 pts, which means she would have made nothing. The only person who contributed was Presenter 27 – herself. Has been active since at least feb.|
|Presenter 29||69||88.88||had a younique kudos party, made 144.00 pts, which is not enough to have received rewards. The only contributor (buyer)was the Presenter herself. She had other parties with the following results: party 2: 177.00 pts contributor: Presenter 29.|
|Presenter 30||69||88.88||just made yellow status. 50 likes of FB page. Posts regularly, the only likes are from herself and another white status younique presenter. Naturally beautiful||Yellow status means has generated at least £711|
|Presenter 33||69||88.88||likes Sharlie Melly, a black status elite presenter living in Spain. Trying to sell younique on her personal FB page. No comments or likes. Started in august 2014 and still only white presenter.|
I think this table speaks for itself.
Question: Does a struggling area like Stoke really need 52 Younique sellers?
Even if the women try to recruit and sell to other areas that aren’t doing as badly, they’re still competing against all the women already doing the same thing in those areas. This seems like a pretty impossible, not very empowering task. Even Younique admits this in teeny tiny letters on their website.
The recruitment and sales figures posted here are achieved only by approximately less than the top 0.02 % of Presenters.
There is no guarantee of success for any Younique Presenter. The final success or failure of any Younique Presenter will likely be a function of such Presenter’s individual talents and effort as well as factors outside of the Presenter’s control such as luck and macro-economic conditions. (like living in a poorer area called Stoke-On-Trent – Timeless Vie). Younique makes no guarantee, promise or any representation that a Presenter will obtain success, profit or income. Becoming a Younique Presenter involves business and financial risk. It is possible that a Presenter will lose money in conjunction with participating as a Presenter.
And there you have it, in black and white, from Younique themselves. But this is not the dream sold to women trying to stay home or make extra money around their families. This fact is hidden under layer after layer of memes, tweets, and other social media guff about how amazing the Younique opportunity is.
I believe, like Kate Dyson, that network marketing has fuck all to do with empowering women and everything to do with selling them a load of bollocks so they part with their money. Women spending their time, energy & talents on network marketing schemes don’t have the time, money or energy to push for better childcare, better work status, or their own businesses. I would argue that MLMs funnel a lot of women’s talent away from economic empowerment towards endlessly striving for an impossible goal. 0.02%, people. 0.02% chance she’ll hit the top of that Younique leaderboard. It’s a game. It’s pay-to-play. Like gambling.
Since I founded Timeless Vie, we’ve received PM after PM from women desperate to tell us their stories of exploitation in MLM. Their side is often ignored. It shouldn’t be.
We will continue to fight for more transparency from the MLM industry and more independent data about the true outcomes for women.