LulaRoe’s refusal to cut ties with an independent retailer who mocked people with disabilities has cost it a partnership with a Down syndrome advocacy group and sparked a social media backlash.
“We remain strongly committed to promoting Down syndrome education and outreach,” read a statement from LulaRoe CEOs Mark and DeAnne Stidham, sent to Yahoo Lifestyle Monday. “This is an issue that is very personal, near and dear to our hearts, and important to our family and the entire LuLaRoe community.”
The uproar began Wednesday when seller Robert Budenbender recorded a live-stream sale during which he appeared to mock a person with special needs. “My name is Robert and I’m special,” he said.
People on social media, some of whom are parents to children with Down syndrome, shared their disgust with Budenbender’s behavior and called for a company boycott. Some sellers submitted resignation letters to LulaRoe.
— Christy (@LLRChristyP) January 27, 2018
— Heather Huisinga (@h_huisinga) January 27, 2018
What’s even worse is the founders have a granddaughter with Down syndrome. Think how she’s going to feel once she understands this. @LuLaRoe – your company should put #peoplebeforeprofit. @NDSS absolutely made the right call.
— Amy Knueppel (@thethomps) January 27, 2018
The leggings retailer, which previously was accused of being a “pyramid scheme,” had a partnership with the National Down Syndrome Society, donating $1 from each sale to the organization. Additionally, when DeAnne’s granddaughter Scarlett was born with Down syndrome, LulaRoe named one of its designs after the little girl and even featured her in an ad.
On Thursday, Robert and his wife, Taya Budenbender, recorded a 16-minute apology video alongside Taya’s sister, who has Down syndrome. In the footage, uploaded by a third party to YouTube, Robert said he had “no excuse” for his behavior, which was “taken out of context.” He also insisted his behavior didn’t reflect his true feelings and that it was “not very nice.”
Taya also explained that her husband’s humor wasn’t a surprise to anyone in their family, including her sister, who dishes the same type of humor right back. However, “watching the video, we can tell it was offensive, and watching it, we got pits in our hearts,” she said. “So we know how you guys are feeling.”
On Friday, chairman Gordon Spoor and Sara Hart Weir, president and CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society, released a joint Facebook statement condemning the video.
“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,” read the statement. “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.”
That same day, LulaRoe released its own Facebook statement, explaining that while Budenbender exhibited “unacceptable and insensitive behavior,” his apology was sincere, and the “unfortunate incident” will be the catalyst for sensitivity and tolerance training. “We do not believe the most productive response to his actions, which he has fully apologized for, is to close his business and threaten his ability to provide for his family,” read the statement.
When asked for comment, NDSS directed Yahoo Lifestyle to its Facebook page, and Budenbender did not return an interview request. However, according to BuzzFeed, which published a screenshot from the private Facebook group LulaRoe With Taya and Bobby Budenbender VIPS, Taya wrote of the backlash, “Haters gonna hate. And man are they hating.”
“It’s extremely disappointing that anyone in this day and age would think that mocking someone with an intellectual disability is acceptable,” Margaret Nygren, the executive director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Hopefully as a result of the attention the video has brought to this issue, this person and others will have an awakening.”
During the past year, LulaRoe has made headlines for the pyramid scheme allegation, which sparked a $1 billion lawsuit against it; for leaked comments from CEO Mark Stidham calling critics “pigs“; and for producing leggings that “rip like wet toilet paper.”
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