Pandora’s Purple Box: Part One
It started with the order of 2 Lime Crime lipsticks.
It ended with a credit card hack, the theft of $3,000, the loss of her job, the deterioration of her health, and the slow decay of the rest of her life.
“My life is ruined for two tubes of lipstick,” says Eva*, whose name has been changed due to the severe backlash she’s received from telling her story. “I can’t even stomach it.”
While Eva’s case in particular may seem like an extreme horror story, it’s actually the harsh and terrifying reality for allegedly hundreds of people across the globe who decided to order Lime Crime makeup since at least October 2014, when a massive security breach compromised the financial and personal information of the companies’ clients due to poor security on their site–
something that people claim Lime Crime knew about for months, but did nothing to fix.
“I don’t think that they were hacked… [They] knew what was going on,”says Eva. “I am disgusted.”
Before her first online order, the 22-year-old from British Columbia, Canada, says a friend who worked at Sephora told her to check out the brand because of the bright, unique colours. Her friend had compared them to another popular lipstick company, and Eva was excited to try something new.
“Because every girl needs mint lipstick, right?” jokes Eva lightly.
That was when Eva first came across Lime Crime Makeup, an independent cosmetics brand that launched in October of 2008 by colourful, quirky CEO Doe Deere– whose real name is Xenia Vorotova– a woman not only praised and emulated for her doll-like beauty and fairy tale lifestyle (with an entire Instagram account dedicated to showing off her elaborate home), but also her “kick-ass, true-to-color, cruelty-free cosmetics.” (LimeCrime.com/About)
From neon yellows and blues, to opaque pinks and greens, Lime Crime’s perky purple packaging, and cutesy, glitter-iffic designs caught (and continue to catch) the eye of many makeup artists and makeup-addicts across the globe.
The original collection didn’t include lipstick. Instead, it featured eye shadow, glitter, blush, primers, and brushes. It wasn’t until a year later that the brand would launch their lipsticks, a move that would put them on the makeup world map.
From there, Deere’s vision for Lime Crime took off at a steady pace. The brand focused on releasing its unique product through its online site, www.LimeCrime.com, while major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Dolls Kill (and later, Sephora) scrambled to scoop up and sell the ‘one-of-a-kind’ cosmetics in store.
It also helped that, for years prior, Deere had made a name for herself online, and snowballed a following that trekked alongside the colourful young entrepreneur from one creative endeavour to another (from Thunderwear! DIY clothing, to her first CD “I Believe in Fairytales” with her band SkySalt, to her LiveJournal community, LittleBigGirls.)
As the brand grew, so did the product selection. Lime Crime launched brightly pigmented, individually packaged glitter, electric eyeshadow palettes, and liquid to matte lipsticks the brand labeled as ‘Velvetines,’ a “lipstick inspired by rose petals” (LimeCrime.com/Velvetines) that promises not to falter during long-wear use.
Check out Lime Crime’s Instagram account (which doesn’t just act as a way to promote the brand, but also as a sporadic vessel of primary communication between the company and its 1.5 million followers) and you’ll see dozens of beautiful supporters sporting matte lipstick in everything from Lime Crime’s electric purples (Pansy, Rave), to pitch black (Black Velvet), to muted browns (Shroom, Cashmere) and pinks (Pink Velvet).
In fact, it was the Velvetines that first caught Eva’s eye. After ordering a tube of Black Velvet for herself, her sister asked Eva to buy her Wicked; a deep, burnt red colour.
“When she received the product, she wasn’t impressed with the formula,” says Eva, who claims she liked her first tube of Black Velvet, but wasn’t super thrilled with the quality. “When I tried [Wicked], it seemed like the tube was half empty already, and when I put it on, it felt like there was dirt or something on the brush.”
Unlike her first tube of Lime Crime’s product, this one didn’t seem right. The formula went on differently, and was much more drying. After removing the product, Eva was horrified at what she saw around her mouth.
“I developed huge, cystic bumps along my lips and I had to get them professionally drained,” alleges Eva, who says the process was long, tedious, and incredibly painful. “This was only with the Wicked shade. The other colour (Black Velvet) seemed just drying.”
But even though Eva was disappointed, she was still very curious;
the reviews she had read online up until that point were mainly positive. They praised the company for its innovation and bold, “unapologetic” cosmetics.
With a quick internet search, Eva checked to see if there was anyone else who had experienced similar issues.
“I was looking around to see if anyone else found [the Velvetines] super drying, and to see if there were any tips [for dealing with the dryness,]” says Eva.
“I then found out about the scandal.”
xxxxxxPandora’s Purple Box
It first came in a purple box.
A purple box with white details– dotted stars, delicate trim, and fine white cursive.
“It’s not about what’s natural, or even looks best…” reads a simple cartoon banner hidden under a fold of the lid. “It’s what feels right at the moment!”
Inside the box, colourful tissue cradles small, glittery boxes of product. Ingredient lists are lacquered with metallic finishes. A ‘vegan & cruelty free’ placard is pressed to the top.
They are glamorous, eye-catching, and bright. Neon, electric, and long-lasting.
Lipsticks that promise to break the boundaries.
Cosmetics for unique, the quirky, the outsiders;
“What if makeup did more than just cover up imperfections? What if it helped you express your personality?” reads Lime Crime’s About portion of the website.
“If you like to live unapologetically, Lime Crime is for you.”
If you were to search ‘Lime Crime’ on your browser, the first result that comes up is a link to the brand site and product store. The third is a link to their Facebook page, and the fourth is to Dolls Kill’s online Lime Crime shop.
The second result, however, is out of place;
a blog called ‘Oh Dear, Doe Deere!’
In fact, if you begin to type out ‘Lime Crime’ in your search bar, the first suggested option is not ‘Lime Crime reviews’ or even ‘Lime Crime products,’ but rather ‘Lime Crime scandal.’
Just like many others, Aimee Alcock found out about the scandal through social media.
“I found out about the security threat over Lime Crime’s Instagram. No email, no public statement, nothing. Just a post on Instagram that has since been deleted due to the enormous amount of complaints the company has received on that post,” says Alcock, a 23-year-old living in the UK, who was affected in more ways than one by the “unapologetic” brand.
Alcock had sought out Lime Crime products after hearing about their vegan guarantee, something that has been questioned and argued over due to the presence of beeswax in the lipsticks and other alleged product inconsistencies.
“At the time of looking into Lime Crime, I couldn’t really find anything negative about the brand, just that they were a little on the expensive side, but they had a wide variety of ‘weird and wonderful lip colours that are bright, vibrant and highly pigmented,’” says Alcock.
“At this point I knew nothing of Doe Deere, and therefore had no knowledge of her now apparent shady background.”
Though Lime Crime Makeup started in 2008, Deere had made her mark online years before in the early 2000s through a series of creative entrepreneurial endeavours, including fashion design and music.
In fact it was her fashion design that would, in 2003, drive Deere to open the invite-only LiveJournal forum LittleBigGirls. She wanted to create a community for do-it-yourself eBay designers that would allow them to advertise, but just 2 years later, the tight-knit group fell apart.
“I was one of the very first members. In the beginning there were 10–13 of us maybe…” reads a LiveJournal post from former LBG member Miss Megan Maude. “Over time, we started to nominate new girls into the group. One of us would make a nomination and everyone else would vote. In the end, I think it was Xenia (Deere) who made the final vote… the only real vote that mattered…”
Maude recalls Deere allegedly targeting members she didn’t ‘like’ before kicking them out. At first she would consult the community, but her decisions quickly became about what she wanted.
“People were kicked out without ever getting a chance to redeem themselves… No warnings… No friendly suggestions… If she wanted someone gone, they were gone,” adds Maude, who says things took a turn when Deere decided to kick out original group members and supporters.
“On top of asking us to leave… She made character attacks and personal attacks that were completely uncalled for. She made it seem like we’re all complete losers even though we all have awesome things we do online and in real life that are not eBay,” writes Maude. “I miss the days when I felt like I had some camaraderie in LBG… like I was part of a great group of girls who supported me and who I was proud to be associated with.”
Deere was also accused by others of allegedly using duct tape to hem and hold her clothing together:
“My Mum bought a dress from her and when it arrived we were shocked to find it was hemmed with Gaffa tape,” reads a post by makeup artist Lillian Low on her blog, Lillian Funny Face, regarding her experiences with Deere’s designs.
“Xenia commented on [a post about the dress] defending herself, which was fair enough, but said (I’m paraphrasing as she deleted her comments,) ‘I sold a shoddy dress. Someone bought it for $100. Who’s the real asshole here?’” claims Low, who went on to say that Deere never apologized for the alleged duct taped dress, or her comments.
Early in her career, Deere also allegedly threatened to sue a 13-year-old girl, claiming online that the girl didn’t credit her images without permission, and that an official legal source within LiveJournal had informed her of copy-write infringement:
“The law was broken way too many times in this community for LJ to ignore it…. LJ contacted me and asked me what’s up. What was I supposed to tell them? That everything was cool and I wasn’t feeling persecuted the least bit?” writes Deere in a response to the 13-year-old’s confusion. “Now everyone who’s ever posted in [this forum] [talking about the issue], anonymously or not, is busted.”
“Busted for what…” asks one user. “Some people had shared their opinions honestly and weren’t ‘persecuting’ you… some even defended you… What are they busted for?”
“Well, let’s see…” starts Deere’s response.
“1. Copyright Violation
2. Promotion of illegal activity
3. Personal harrassment (sic)
4. Invasion of privacy
7. Hate speech
Nice list, no? All legal reasons, too. Ouch!”
But others were quick to call her bluff;
“Why don’t you cut and paste the email that you received from LJ Legal dept. Then we’ll all believe you,” wrote one user to Deere directly. “Of course that would be impossible… Because you are a lying liar who lies a lot, and now you are getting caught!”
The user, who went by the screen name Meanest_Bastard, continued to challenge Deere until she left the conversation.
“It’s sad to see you lashing out, when you should be at home mending your wounds… or trying to make a new fake community for pre-teen age girls to adore you,” wrote Meanest_bastard before dealing a final blow:
“One last thing… There is no way that you are sorry for this. You tell so many lies, I think you are starting to believe your own shit!” (It is not clear if Deere ended up suing the 13-year-old girl.)
At the same time LBG flourished, Deere befriended original member Amy Doan, who sold clothing on eBay under the moniker Shrinkle, (and went on to start her own cosmetics company, SugarPill.) It was then that people began to see similarities between Deere and Doan’s designs, colour palettes, and overall neon style. Their friendship ended shortly before Lime Crime clothing shut down in 2006.
In April 2006, Deere began to allegedly sell repackaged glitter on her site. She changed her style, rebranded herself, and focused more on her makeup/cosmetic tutorials. She also began allegedly reselling children’s party favour, heart-shaped glasses as if they were adult sized ones for $14 (“Rare to find, adult size Lolita hearts. Pretty and lightweight, you’ll love ’em! Made in France,” reads one photo caption on a picture of Deere in the glasses.)
Though Deere’s offences seem petty and more annoying than genuinely detrimental and damaging, a deeper search into Deere’s past begins to showcase the neon skeletons the CEO has stashed at the back of her closet.
“[Like] how she dressed up like Hitler [for Halloween]. As a Jewish woman, I was disgusted,” says Eva, who referenced photo Deere herself posted to her blog, doedeereblogazine.com in 2008 which has since been removed (although Deere allegedly defended herself in another post that has also been removed, claiming her actions were not meant to be offensive because her “grandmother is Jewish.”)
“My entire family moved to Canada from Russia to give me a better life. I identify as a reformist Jew– and I felt like I had a lot in common with Doe,” says Eva, as Deere herself is a Russian immigrant. “I understand everyone makes mistakes, but after seeing the pain my Father went through leaving his family to give me a better life, and how he grew up during the Cold War, and how that country is still so war torn, how on earth she could even remotely think that would be okay [is beyond me!]”
And the skeletons kept tumbling– after the discovery of the Hitler photograph, in 2009, Deere was called out on online forums for allegedly selling her repackaged product which she addressed in a post;
a post that would bare strikingly remarkable, unmistakeable similarities to comments Lime Crime would make surrounding a massive security-breach the brand would encounter less than 5 years later.
“I have learned that a group of people is engaged in an online campaign to harm my company. They deliberately spread rumors and re-publish false information that I ‘defraud my customers’, call them ‘idiots’, have poor customer service, etc,” reads Deere’s November 17th, 2009 post, which has since been removed, but that can be found here.
“Everybody knows I bust my hump to ensure everyone is happy! But that’s not all. They also began posting instructions encouraging people to file fraudulent PayPal claims and commit mail fraud,” Deere’s post continues.
“Everyone has the right to express their opinion – I am exercising it right now, by posting this message. But just because you are doing it online, anonymously, or in a different country, doesn’t exempt you from the responsibility for your words.”
xxxxxx Sephora, Social media, and the Security breach
It only took a week for Sephora to pull Lime Crime products from their online store.
In November 2014, shoppers could browse both the brand’s Velvetines and Unicorn Lipstick, but now a search for Lime Crime yields nothing.
Less than a month after Lime Crime disappeared from Sephora, the complaints about the security hack began. Like Alcock, Eva found out about the security breach through social media.
“I first heard about it on Instagram. I had 2 different credit cards hacked, not even just used but FULLY DRAINED,” alleges Eva.
And Eva wasn’t the only one. Hundreds of customers took to Lime Crime’s popular Instagram page to ask about strange, sometimes extreme charges on their cards, and the drained/missing money from their accounts.
“My credit card info was leaked from lime crime (sic) in November…” writes one Instagram user with a frowny face. “They really should pay more attention to stuff like that.”
“My card info was leaked too and re-occurring charges kept being made to my account,” wrote another.
“This is not just a rumour, many people have experienced fraudulent activity over the past 3 months since purchasing from Lime Crime using their debit/credit card,” one user posted on Lime Crime’s Instagram.
“Please people! Watch out before using your credit card on their page… The info of not my credit cards was leaked and it’s [been] a nightmare… [It’s] not worth it.”
“First off, who uses their BANK CARD online? Credit card sure but your actual bank card?! DUMB and the fact that they (Lime Crime) are being honest should be enough. THESE THINGS HAPPEN PEOPLE especially with smaller start-up companies. BE PATIENT!” wrote one user, only to be countered by a number of unhappy customer’s backlash.
“Literally hundreds [of] people have said it happened to them after ordering from [Lime Crime] and had their CREDIT CARD INFO stolen! It’s not just bank cards…” wrote one user.
“A lot of people use their bank card online, me being one of them. It isn’t dumb at all,” wrote another. “Plenty of young people don’t actually own credit cards? Yes these things happen, but [you] can’t expect people to just let it go and chill out when they’ve had £200 taken from their accounts.”
Soon, Lime Crime’s Instagram page became less about the company’s lipsticks and glitters, and more about the company’s security breach.
Hundreds of angry customers voiced their warnings and despair and expressed anger towards the brand, only to be ignored or have their comments allegedly deleted, something that Lime Crime has been suspected of doing with less than favourable comments across their social media (though as one Reddit user points out, a recent post from Lime Crime about keeping posts “positive” and keeping feedback “respectful… and constructive” online could very well be the brand’s justification for deleting negative comments.)
Following the hack, Lime Crime and Deere’s Instagram pages switched from private to open as the flood of angry comments rose, while follower counts dropped.
“I was also one of the victims of the data breach and obviously thought ‘it’ll never happen to me,’” says Alcock from the UK, who is still trying to recover from Lime Crime’s security breach over 6 months later.
“My first fraudulent charge on my card was one for £230 for a games company in America and luckily, my bank noticed it had been approved and called me immediately to let me know,” claims Alcock, who considered herself lucky at first.
“One thing I hadn’t realized, though, was I have a savings account linked up to my regular debit account and somehow the security breach had allowed money to be taken out of my savings account,” she says. “In total, I lost £1,000 in savings that I am never going to be able to get back, despite every avenue I have taken with my bank and external sources. I have since had to close my accounts and get new ones issued.”
Eva alleges that after the security breach, her bank refused to believe that she was hacked.
“I am over $3,000 in debt,” says Eva. “Now, after a rough battle with ovarian cysts and a miscarriage, I have lost two jobs in a row, [and] with mounting debt, and bills to pay… I’m so fucked, to be honest.”
It wasn’t until February of 2015, almost 3 months later, that Lime Crime acknowledged that the security breach happened at all. The brand started notifying people– not with an official email, or a direct letter to customers, but with posts on their various social media platforms.
But customers were upset, and very, very vocal.
It had taken the brand months to mention anything about the theft of their client’s information. While panicked users posted their desperate concerns online, it appeared that, to Lime Crime, nothing had happened at all.
“I love all the cute emojis they used when telling their customers their information was stolen!” wrote one user on a Jezelbel article detailing the hack. “Teehee! Totes professional… it really gives me the impression they’re taking it seriously! TOODLES #makeup #vegan #we’readorabledon’tbemad!”
Online, the brand continued to showcase colourful pictures of their product, promote other makeup artists wearing their cosmetics, and share updates across Lime Crime and Deere’s personal accounts.
“I think there are a million-and-one other ways Lime Crime could have handled their security breach. Companies have them, no matter now secure they are, but it’s all about how you help your customers remedy the problem and help them get compensated for their troubles and privacy violation,” says Alcock.
“Lime Crime and Doe Deere did NOTHING other than put [a few] posts on an Instagram page. How ridiculous can that be? Not everyone that purchases their products follows them on social media and even if they do, they don’t check every day.”
Alcock points out that Lime Crime would have every customer’s billing address, and that sending out a letter would have been better, something Lime Crime says they eventually did.
“I STILL have not gotten an email, or a letter, or anything. All my questions have gone unanswered,” says Eva. She claims she’s stopped commenting and asking questions on Lime Crime’s social media because of fear of backlash and getting blocked.
But a letter was sent out, and those who received the generic message were informed that the security breach happened in October 2014, not November.
The letter was also not signed by Deere, but President Mark Dumbleton, her husband– a move that made some wonder why Deere, who casts herself in the spot-light over and over, didn’t sign the apology herself.
In the months since the hack, social media has been used as a powerful tool for both the security breach’s victims, and Lime Crime.
The brand continues to post and feature their products to their 1.5 million followers, releasing new Velvetines and hyping the brand through its various popular online platforms.
On the other side of the spectrum, multiple boycott accounts have also taken to social media to educate and inform potential customers about the company’s history, issues, and alleged ongoing discrepancies.
These accounts have created hashtags like #friendsdontletfriendsbuylimecrime, #flushyourglitterdowntheshitter, and #50shadesofcashmere (in reference to a Velvetine shade that allegedly appears to change colour and consistency in most pictures) to act as creative avenues that educate others about Lime Crime.
“[I started the boycott] to stick up for the consumer. To give them a voice,” says one of the boycotters, who wishes to remain anonymous, in an interview.
Some boycott accounts boast thousands of followers with hundreds of posts that exhibit evidence of alleged photoshop, questionable screen-capped comments from the brand’s social media, and the desperate pleas of customers who all share the same question: What happened?
Unfortunately, for some like Eva and Alcock, it seems like their questions will never be completely answered.
I asked both women what they would say to Deere if they ever had a chance to meet the quirky, colourful CEO of this “unapologetic” brand in person.
Eva’s response is simple:
Go fuck yourself.
“She has no idea how badly she’s screwed up so many lives… I’d kindly tell her to go fuck herself,” says Eva, who is still struggling to get her life back on-track. “I have no job, no means of income, no credit, and she sits in her little fucking palace, ripping off people and pretending to be culturally sensitive; pretending to care. Words cannot describe how upset I am. How this has effected my family.”
Alock’s response is similar:
“To Xenia Vorotova, a.k.a Doe Deere. I do not know who you think you are. I’m trying to construct this small message to you in a way that will not result in me completely and utterly losing my head…”
“How dare you?” Alcock asks. “How dare you be so blasé about your customer’s suffering, and turn it around for it to seem as though it is their fault, or their fault for purchasing items from you and your company in the first place?”
Alcock continues; “Your little empire is crashing around you, and if all is right with the world, you will go down with it, and your name will never, ever be associated with a beauty brand or any form of business ever again. You’re seen as a joke in the eyes of your customers, competitors and peers.”
As for people potentially looking to buy from Lime Crime now?
“Don’t do it. Honestly even with PayPal. I see all these girls still falling over Cashmire and the Venus palette… and I get so so so mad. Like full body rage goes over me. How could you be so ignorant to ignore all of us who are trying to [warn you about] the danger? They just act like we are some huge hate cult,” says Eva.
“I wont be able to get a house, I can hardly afford food, I have people calling my phone day and night, demanding money from me.
My life will never ever be the same now.”