Lustreglow is a visual research project exploring the links between multi-level marketing schemes, the crypto market, gender and class.
Multi-level marketing schemes, or MLMs for short, are a type of a business model in which non-salaried employees invest their own money to acquire an inventory of products which they later intend to sell. Through recruiting new salespeople, they can also earn commission on sales finalised by members of their team. The commission system trickles all the way up the pyramid model, resulting in over 99% of members making a loss. These schemes have flourished over the course of the pandemic, which has seen many people forced to stay at home, desperate to find new ways of making an income, as well as craving human interaction and a sense of community.
MLMs mostly target women, especially stay-at-home mums who want to earn money while working from home. This lifestyle is what draws people in, while the products sold often do not hold actual value, instead they are representational placeholders for what it means to be part of a group of successful individuals, able to supposedly escape their class and gender struggles. Products such as low-quality makeup, essential oils, cleaning products, or books sold in MLMs transcend their material qualities by becoming a promise of financial stability.
Many ideas present in MLMs can also be found in crypto marketing; trading on the crypto market seems to be a more stereotypically male equivalent to joining an MLM - it allows you to work from home and ‘be your own boss’ instead of working for someone else. Both thrive in online community groups and on youtube, where insider jargon and aspirational imagery prevail.
One of the hottest topics in crypto in recent months have been NFTs - using blockchain technology to ensure their originality, non-fungible tokens created a new market for digital assets, where one can speculate on a future market price of a digital piece of art. This speculative aspect of the NFT market means that their aesthetic value often has secondary importance. Just like products sold in multi-level marketing schemes, NFTs are often only stand-in tokens for the real product on sale - the aspirational lifestyle associated with trading them.