Strap in, because this drama has lots of twists and turns. If you're unfamiliar with the clothing company LuLaRoe, you must not spend much time on Facebook. The company works with regular people in a business setting where they buy a product, and then attempt to sell that product to friends, usually through social media.
Which means we've all been bombarded by a LuLaRoe aunt or cousin bent on becoming an entrepreneur. Raise your hand if you have a pair of LuLaRoe leggings!
There are certainly people who have been extremely successful with it. A couple named Bobby and Taya Budenbender are reportedly amongst the top 100 LuLaRoe sellers in the country, according to Buzzfeed. They have about 2o,000 people in their VIP group, and their online sales are wildly popular.
Buzzfeed has been reporting on the Budenbenders since Bobby made a remark in one of his Facebook live broadcasts that appeared to mock people with mental disabilities, specifically Down Syndrome. Though it was deleted, the footage was captured and uploaded to YouTube.
In the video, the Budenbenders are struggling with some technical aspect of their show, then Bobby realizes it was a simple error. He turns to the camera and in an exaggerated voice some people think is meant to mock folks with Down Syndrome he repeats, "My name is Robert and I'm really special."
Because LuLaRoe is so dependent on personality and selling directly to people as though they're your friends, there is often a lot of drama. The Budenbenders were quickly called out on social media for their casual mockery, and customers demanded LuLaRoe sever their contract with them.
They then shared an apology video, which featured Taya's sister who has Down Syndrome. Bobby claimed he's made a "mistake" and the words were "taken out of context." The first I believe, the latter...not so much.
On Friday, he also apologized in their private Facebook group.
"I have true respect for all people and view them with equality," Bobby said. "I know I am flawed at times, and I have been humbled to take inventory on how I can represent myself online, as the man I really am inside."
This is not good enough for a lot of people. Part of LuLaRoe's platform is their support of people with Down Syndrome. The company's founders, Mark and DeAnne Stidham, have a granddaughter named Scarlett with Down Syndrome. They've designed a dress in her honor, and a portion of sales for the garment go to the National Down Syndrome Society.
They also frequently feature models with Down Syndrome, including Scarlett herself:
People expected some sort of censure from the Stidhams, but it didn't happen. The National Down Syndrome Society announced they were severing ties with the company:
NDSS president Gordon Spoor wrote:
Within the last 24 hours, it has come to the attention of the National Down Syndrome Society that an online video by a LuLaRoe independent retailer, which mocks a person with a disability, was posted on YouTube. This video is unacceptable and further perpetuates the stigmas we work to fight and end each and every day at NDSS.
While we appreciate the apology from this individual and the previous support from LuLaRoe, we must uphold our mission statement, and end our partnership and any further programming with LuLaRoe immediately.
As the leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome, we envision a world in which all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations and become valued members of welcoming communities.We will continue advocating for all individuals with Down syndrome, the Down syndrome community and living our vital mission statement each and every single day.
The Stidhams posted their own response to end of their ties to NDSS on Facebook.
The statement frames the end of their connection to NDSS as their decision, which they reached after refusing to accept the Budenbenders apology. The Stidhams seem to believe the couple is sincere, and they want to allow them to move forward in the company:
"This fundamental difference in how we view education and awareness initiatives – joined with our commitment to not fight intolerance with eradication – ultimately contributed to our decision to end this relationship. The culture of LuLaRoe and the opportunity to continue to improve lives and strengthen communities through strong principles of acceptance and education will remain among our highest priorities."
In a message on the Budenbenders private Facebook group, they are less formal. A source sent Buzzfeed a screenshot in which they write of the controversy, "haters gonna hate!" It is also circulating on twitter.
And many are skeptical and think that LuLaRoe is more interested in the money they make off the Budenbenders than in allowing them to grow as people.
What do you think?
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