Not Past It - Mary Kay and the Rise of the Pink MLM


Okay, picture.

This, you’re packed into a giant Convention Center in Dallas, Texas.

There are tens of thousands of women there.

They’ve got big hair and big shoulder pads.

It’s 1997 one by one.

Women come onto the stage.


Adorned in diamonds and sashes.

They offer Pepe testimonials.

Can you see why I work?

So hard to beat the top so that I can hang out with these million-dollar girlfriends that I have.

Don’t you wish?

You could say they are my personal girlfriend today.

So great.


I am so excited to be alive and make a difference today.

Do you know what you are?

Wonderful looking in the mirror.

You are wonderful.

I love you.

These women aren’t beauty.

Pageant contestants, they’re entrepreneurs and they sell makeup.


They’re waiting to see the woman at the top of their beauty Empire.

The founder of this whole Enterprise Mary Kay.

Ash the namesake of Mary Kay cosmetics A choir sings As Mary.

Kay Glides onto stage.


She looks like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire rolled into one.

She’s got bright red, lips, heavily powdered face and huge platinum.

Blond hair combed towards heaven.

The Crowd Goes Wild, she’s an icon, a symbol of the heights.


Women can reach you too, can be just like her a successful entrepreneur.

If you hustle hard enough.

From gimlet media.

This is not past it a show about the stories.


We can’t quite leave behind every episode.

We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.

I’m Simone palana in 59 years ago, this week on September 13th, 1963 Mary, Kay, Ash launched, her beauty Empire, she recruited hundreds of thousands of women around the world to sell cosmetics and her company.


And to a multibillion-dollar global phenomenon.

Mary Kay’s, had her dream was to give women the reins to their own financial future, but was that promise, only skin deep, we’re talking hand creams and pink Cadillac Dreams after the break.


You won’t find Mary Kay cosmetics at the department store.

You, buy these products at home from a friend, or a friend of a friend, someone you trust and often you buy them at a Mary Kay party, sometimes called a beauty show like this one from a Mary, Kay promotional video from 1980.


I’m screen.

We see all these women sitting around a dining room table lipsticks and hand checking out the latest powders and creams, a Mary, Kay consultant circles, the table.

Susan, does that color suit you?

Oh, it’s wonderful.

One of the women sitting around, the table is Susan Anderson.


I went to my first Beauty show because I was down in the dumps, I just lost my job, and I hated the idea of looking for another one, I was worried about My bills, the beauty shows, sounded fun, and it was later, the Mary.

Kay, consultant pulls Susan.


Aside, has she ever thought about selling Mary Kay?

I promised her.

I’d think about it for the little persuading for my new friends and Mary Kay and some deep soul-searching I did it.

I invested in myself and became a Mary.

Kay beauty consultant.


Susan Buys in.

She gets a standard Mary Kay starter pack a box, full of beauty products.

It’s basically everything you need to throw your own Mary Kay party and my first Beauty show, oh, as I nervous inside.

But when it was over, I had orders for over $100.


What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was on the first rung of the ladder.

Mary Kay provided for me.

Mary Kay.

Ash said she wanted to help women like, Susan, women who needed money, but who also needed flexibility as a Mary.


Kay consultant, you set your own hours and you get a cut on everything.

You sell the more you sell the more you make.

Mary, Kay said that was her vision from the very start.

I wanted a company with an open end where no matter you could do as much, or as little As you wanted to do, our were able to do some your ability standpoint.


And that is how our system has evolved women being able to earn beautiful money, Mary Kay, Ash recorded this in 1974, as part of an oral history with North Texas State University, her own life embodied, the company’s promise, the ordinary women could accomplish extraordinary things, Mary, Kay herself, came from.


Humble origins in the late 30s.

She was a single mom.

Trying to make ends meet.

I needed money and I needed to have three small children, very small.

And I needed a method by which I can earn money and yet not be gone eight or nine hours a day, but she needed was flexibility.


So she could take care of her kids and work.

She started selling mops brooms and cleaning products for a direct sales company, and that whole, throw a party sell products Ma Model.

She used it even back.

Then party, lasted approximately four hours, maybe five of the time.


You’ve got there and got home again, she eventually climbed up the corporate ladder, but then in 1963 something happened.

That changed everything for Mary.

Kay, one of the businesses she worked for was planning to change their commission structure potentially cutting into her income.


And that wasn’t going to fly for her.

I resigned in protest and I went home and did the same thing that most other women would have done.

I cried all night and so I decided that the best thing I could do was to sit down and write down all of the good things that I could think about.


So, I found myself at my dining room table, with a legal size pad at 8:00 in the morning.

Mary, Kay realized that she was basically documenting her sales experience and everything she had learned in her career thus far.

She had advice on how to set sales reps up for Success, thoughts on.


What works, what doesn’t one day and reading this massive amount of notes?

I decided what a marvelous company.

This would be if somebody would do these things, somebody could take these ideas and turn them into a company.


And that somebody could be her, she’d start the business and recruit a team of women, to help her build it on.

The timing was pretty perfect.

More women were working outside the home.

The era of the 1950s, housewife was ending.


And the second wave feminism of the 1960s was taking off in the beginning.

And in the end we have to be much more than that in the world now.

Women were navigating a new set of choices grappling with how much time to spend with family or at work with Mary.


Kay, you didn’t have to choose, you could launch a thriving career from home.

So, she had the vision but what she needed was a product and Mary, Kay wanted something that women would need again and again, and again, you’re a something so good.


That a woman will go to no end of trouble, to find a method of getting that product.

Again, she can’t just go down to a department store and pick it up.

She has to keep in touch with a consultant.

A consultant who had exclusive access to exclusive products, but what and then it hit her.


She’d been using this one locally-made skin cream for years, she decided she’d sell women’s beauty products and she quickly locked down the rights to the formula.

She also brought on a business partner, he was her real life partner to her new husband signed on to run the administrative side of the business.


It was 1963.

Couple was getting ready to launch but then the unexpected one last of the day before we were to start.

We were sitting at The Breakfast Table, he had just gone over the accounting part of this with me and he died of a heart attack that morning.


Immediately instantly right at the table so suddenly I was left with half a company.

Mary, Kay new sales but she wasn’t familiar with the administrative side of things.

Her lawyers told her that she stood.


No chance, she needed to liquidate the business recoup, whatever cash she could.

She opted instead to keep going, keep trying to get her business off the ground with the help of her family, one of her son’s, loaned her 4500 dollars the other stepped into the vacant admin role.


And on September 13th 1963 Beauty by Mary Kay officially opened its doors.

They were based out of a 500 square foot shop in Dallas decorated with homemade drapes and secondhand shelving.

But most of the business took place outside these doors and in other people’s homes, Mary, Kay hosted the first Cosmetics party herself, she called it a beauty show and she brought on a group of friends to be her first beauty consultant It’s all the people who were in the business in the beginning, were instrumental in helping work out that procedure because we all came in at least once a week sometimes often ER and got our heads together.


Spent several hours talking about what we had done during the week and what has worked and what hasn’t worked slowly but surely the vision began to take shape.

Mary Kay said, the company was designed to empower women, but it also embodied, very Traditional Values women were purged from wearing trousers, you couldn’t smoke or drink, it sales parties, the company’s motto was God first family, second, career, third, It felt like Mary Kay was pitching this opportunity to women, who shared those same Traditional Values.


Women who wanted to take charge of their future, but weren’t exactly bra-burning.

Feminists, Mary, Kay herself saw the movement as misguided.

She told the Dallas Morning News, I came along at a time when God knew women were going to get off track.


She continued God, needed someone to come along to be a role model for women to stay feminine as he created us.

Mary Kay’s, brand Financial Freedom, and femininity found footing.

And their first year, sales weren’t bad.


They sold 800 thousand dollars worth of product.

Mary, Kay wanted to reward her sales team for their success.

So in 1964, a year after the company’s launch, Mary Kay hosted her first award ceremony and the company’s Warehouse written on in the warehouse with our own balloon and Paper from the rafters of the warehouse and I cook the dressings like 100 people over the years.


This little ceremony would grow to become that over-the-top annual conference.

We heard at the top of the show a few years into running her business Mary, Kay decided to treat herself a bond Cadillac and a daddy one day.

But the ideal thing to do would be a painted pink.


So we painted it pink and it just caught on like a half of fire.

Everybody wanted a pink Cadillac and somebody said, couldn’t that be a side?

These pink Cadillacs would go on to become the most iconic prize.


Mary Kay had to offer soon, they were spotted Across America a beacon of the Mary, Kay message.

There’s a rich pink world out there and all you got to do is sell this is a 60 Minutes, new segment from 1979 and it the reporter shares his take on what women want.


It’s women when they’re girls have fantasies of Is he in lives?

Plinking diamonds clothed in mink.

They quickly lose them for the mortgage and the children and the rest.

But Mary Kay, Ash your the touch of marketing genius proves it can all come true for anyone in middle life.


By the 90s women were selling Mary, Kay cosmetics, worldwide and Guatemala Malaysia.

And as far as New Zealand, Mary Kay, Ash had built an incredibly successful business though.

She didn’t take all the credit.

I really feel that our company is where it is today and has been blessed beyond all belief.


By the fact that God is using our company as a vehicle to help women to become the Beautiful Creatures that he created.

But not everyone had such a Divine experience selling for Mary, Kay our home that day and I was like I’m done God.


I am done.

I am not going to do that again to anybody.

We’re pulling back the pink curtain after the break.


Welcome back my sales, Queens.

My girl, boss has my future, she owes of America before the break.

We learned all about Mary Kay, the single mom turned Global Cosmetics.

Giant, she sold women a dream that no matter their circumstance.


They too could grow their own business Empires.

That appealed to Christy Jones.

She lived in a small town in Texas, like 1500 person small, and the mid-2000s she decided To try something new and signed on as a Mary.


Kay beauty consultant I brought me out of my shell just like what my friend said.

It’ll build your confidence up and she said, it’ll open up a whole new world for you.

And she was right.

Christy converted, her garage into a little Mary.


Kay shop invited women over for makeovers.

Eventually, she ventured out and started selling around her little corner of Jesus, I’ll be going to all these little neighboring towns and I would be recruiting All These Little People.

Christy recruited other Consultants each time her recruits made a sale.


She made a cut.

If they also recruited more people, she got a cut of their sales to and the more she recruited the higher, she could rise up the Mary Kay ladder.

Christie worked her way up to direct her which was a lot of work.

They really push you To get as much sales as you can.


It’s build your team’s, you know, get people to come in as your consultants and sell product like crazy.

And to sell like crazy, Christie spent her own money up front.

She paid for incentives for her team.

She also bought a lot of product because customers didn’t like to wait.


If I kept inventory, then they got it right then?

There was a pressure to spend pressure to recruit Christie.

Finally, hit a Breaking Point.

This lady came to me and she was, she wanted a makeover and so protocol is that, you also tell them about the business opportunities, Christy asked the woman if she was interested in selling Mary.


Kay, she’d need a starter kit.

A few makeup pieces to show customers a little upfront investment.

And then she went and gave plasma.

To be able to buy a starter kit.

Is she came to me and she says, okay, I have the money for the starter kit.


She said so you could you can make it to where I can make that kind of money and that’s whenever it was a wake-up call for me and I set her down.

I said no, it’s a huge investment to actually do it at this level and in all honesty you’re not going to make the money like These people are actually telling you this page would end up being Christie’s last disillusioned.


She eventually gave up selling Mary, Kay products and left the company.

And she isn’t alone.

Mary Kay is what we now call, a multi-level marketing company, or MLM businesses, that recruit people to sell to their friends and family.


There were tons of these mlms by the late 70s, Cutco knives Tupperware.

Are one of the biggest was am way they sold a bunch of stuff, toothpaste, cleaning products, you name it in 1975, the US Federal Trade Commission filed, a complaint against Amway claiming that it looked like a pyramid scheme that it was quote a scheme to Pyramid.


Distributors upon ever increasing numbers of other Distributors.

That it was potentially deceitful.

Its investigation concluded that Amway was not a pyramid scheme but its decision did have an impact.


The University of West England, economics professor Mary run studies mlms.


It’s with the 1979 FTC versus Amway decision that we see the modern incarnation of the MLM because what delineates a pyramid scheme from an MLM.

Is that an MLM sells a product?


That is the key difference.

A pyramid scheme focuses only on recruitment The FTC has never found Mary Kay and violation of these rules, others have called the company a pyramid scheme though, A Pink Pyramid Scheme as what Harper’s magazine called it in 2012.


The piece reported that Consultants were buying up a lot of product but not making much money.

It quotes a financial fraud investigator and former Mary Kay consultant who claims some of the companies highest performers were only making twenty five thousand dollars a year.


You can read similar complaints on the website, pink, or many former Representatives, share their own experience, struggling to keep up with the Mary Kay model.

We ask the company about these claims, but we didn’t get a response.

The company told CBS in 2012 quote.


It’s each person’s choice on how much product she wants to purchase from the company to sell to her customers.

These days Mary Kay Ash isn’t around.

She died in 2001 leaving her son to run the show but the company is alive and well according to Forbes Mary Kay cosmetics and 2.8 billion dollars in revenue.


And 2021, mlms more broadly aren’t showing signs of slowing down either the idea of some Rando from your past sliding into your DMs to sell you leggings Or essential oils or a wine subscription as practically a meme at this point.


And the people participating in this MLM economy are mostly women 60 percent according to the AARP.

It’s hard to ignore that.

These transactions are mostly women selling to other.

Women leveraging, their personal networks to sell products, but also to sell an idea to sell a vision of a better life, a better you Professor Mary run says that’s the real draw to joining these mlms.


It’s a way for women to I think assert their independence to express their ambition and a socially acceptable way.

You know I’m building my Empire.

I’m a boss babe it’s a way for them to express agency ambition agency.


I can totally relate to wanting those things.

The freedom to color outside the lines of expectations.

It’s part of what has attracted women decade after decade to the world of mlms.

A desire that Mary Kay Ash tapped into.


She talked about this with a local news station in Montana.

It’s 1982 almost a couple decades after she started her business, we’d like to ask you to begin Mary?

Kay is pink.

Your favorite color.

Not really.

Her delivery is pretty flat as if she said this stuff a million times before.


Until she starts talking about the unmet potential of women.

At that point, she perks up, you know, I think that if there was a common denominator among women and the countries that we ran and in the United States, it’s a lack of confidence in their own ability.


They just don’t know how good they are.

And we find that most women haven’t had a round of applause since I graduated from high school, a college.

And they’re, they’re anxious, they’re hungry for fulfillment for self-fulfillment.

Moment and we give it to them by praising.


Everything they do and praise him right up, the ladder of success.

At the end of all this I’m left wondering how to consider Mary Kay’s Legacy, all that her company did for women.


And the desires left unfulfilled was Mary, Kay good for women.

It’s complicated, but I can certainly say it was good for one woman.

The one who sold the dream of pink Cadillacs and million-dollar girlfriend’s a vision of something bigger and better.


Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.

This episode was produced by Ramon Phillip, next week Family Matters, Full House Boy, Meets World and more prepare for a rush of nostalgia as we look back at the iconic, TGIF lineup.


It’s TGIF time and it’s hardly of or the new season is better than ever.

Before we’ve got Giggles Galore, we’ve got gags and much more.

We’ve got a lineup of shows that you just can’t ignore the rest of our team.

Our associate producers Julie, Carly and Nick Delle Rose.


Laura Newcombe is our production assistant.

The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by Annie Gilbertson and Andrea be Scott fact-checking by Jane.

Ackerman sound design and mixing by Emma Monger, original music, by sacks kicks.

Ave, Willie Green.

J bless and Bobby Lord.


Our theme song is Toko Liana.

KOCO with music supervision by Liz, Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman.

The executive producer at CSP media is Zach Stewart, Ponte the executive producer from gimlet as Matt.

Schulze special.


Thanks to a nav rabinovich, Fox Cassandra, yeah, covid C Virginia Soul Smith Megan met, Sarah Wilson and to Lydia Pole, Green Abbie ruzicka Dan Behar, Jen hon, Emily wiedemann, list Styles, Ella Walsh and Joshua Bianchi.

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Hey why don’t you write as 5 Stars?

You can follow me on Twitter at Simone palana in.

Thanks for hanging.

We’ll see you next week. 51 mission in life.


It’s to dismantle hustle culture.

I tell my students, every semester don’t believe this hustle culture bullshit,

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