Inside the influencer MLM that peddles more than just an Insta-perfect life

‘If you’re just getting started with the Breakaway Movement you don’t have to tell your friends or family about this business…’ 

With her friendly voice and big smile, Amelia Whelan delivers this line as part of a social media training video called ‘Overcoming criticism and negativity’.

In it, the 25-year-old wellness entrepreneur goes on to say: ‘Usually when people don’t understand something, they say it’s not practical and try to talk you out of things. It’s a sad reality but it’s the truth’. 

Amelia is the founder of the Breakaway Movement (BAM), which boasts 4000-plus members around the world. Calling themselves the ‘BamFam’, their business ethos is simple: break away from everything and everyone you know to live the life of your dreams.

Scroll through the lifestyle influencer’s Instagram page and you’ll discover standard wellness content; drinking from a coconut on a beach, smoothie bowls on wicker tables in Bali, sunrise yoga on a mountain top. 

But scrape away the layers and you eventually discover what Amelia’s Breakaway Movement is ultimately about – multi-level marketing. Specifically, $5k water filters. (Yes, you read that right.)

Made by the Enagic company, the machines are said to produce ionized alkaline and acidic waters through electrolysis – something they’ve trademarked as Kangen Water, along with the suggestion that is far healthier than the stuff you get from the tap.

However, product price tag aside, Amelia’s venture is nothing like the usual rabid recruiting schemes that have plagued our Facebook pages throughout lockdown with promises of extra cash for selling candles or, as per the current Corrie Double Glammy storyline involving Sean and Daisy, makeup to mates. 

Sign up to the BamFam and you’ll join those already touted on the site in a video as ‘incredible humans’, who ‘made the choice to pivot from their old lifestyle that was no longer serving them and design their new reality.’ 

This new reality includes invites to week-long $6K ‘retreats’ – of which there has been two to date – in idyllic locations, which include sub-conscious reprogramming, hypnosis, law of attraction and polyamory workshops, plant medicine and meditation ceremonies and holistic healing.

In fact, last year – at a time when most of the globe was going into lockdown – BAM hosted their first ever ‘business mastery retreat’, called The Vortex, taking place in the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Indonesia. 

At first glance, it’s easy to see the allure. All of their publicity bumf seems to be hooked on the idea that members end up hanging out in tropical paradises, eating fresh fruit, swimming in the ocean and smiling a lot. All while making lots of money.

‘You’re being told that if you’re part of the movement you can work remotely – in paradise, if you want – have flexible hours and on top of everything, be more healthy. It taps perfectly into the wellness movement, which is hugely popular right now,’ explains fraud and security awareness trainer James Bore. ‘Would-be members are enticed by the idea of living a luxury, wholesome life and selling it to others – but at the end of the day, if something seems to be too good to be true, it is. 

‘Underneath it all, this is still a classic MLM and the only people who are really living the dream are the founders as it’s all about getting money through those they recruit. However, schemes like this are rarely sustainable, so eventually it will burn out and collapse.’

To be part of the BAM lifestyle utopia, members simply pay $33.33 a month (all monetary values are given in so-called ‘angel numbers’, which are specific sequences some people believe are messages from angels). This fee covers access to their entire training platform, which has over 400 hours of ‘exclusive transformational content’ which includes tutorial videos from how to launch an online business to photo editing. 

However, before you can actually start selling the $5K water filter systems, you have to buy your own Kangen Water machine.

Meaning that BAM recruits have to also shell out thousands of dollars, while established members – ie. those who recruited them – make an instant profit, as they get commission for every one that gets bought through their newbie.  

Like all MLM schemes, if members do fail to make any money, the onus is on them. 

‘Why are you standing in your own way?’ is the title of one of BAM training videos, which tells members, ‘If you’re not having success and if you’re not making money, it’s because of you.’ 

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With a companywide focus on ‘The Law of Attraction’ and Law of Attraction workshops in both the training programme and at the retreat, Amelia and her team appear to undermine BAM members by implying that a ‘negative energy mindset’ is the reasoning for ‘lack instead of abundance.’ 

Therefore, allowing any criticism of Amelia and her organisation to be pushed aside by the charismatic leaders and her followers as simply being a symptom of ‘an internal problem, not an external one.’

Indeed, in the tiniest small print at the bottom of their website homepage it reads: ‘there is no guarantee that you will earn any money using the techniques and ideas in this material or on this website’. 

‘MLMs are very good at blaming recruits if they don’t make any money,’ explains fraud and security expert James. ‘You’re made to feel that it’s your fault because you’re not trying hard enough. Some places even suggest that if you’re not making sales you buy more of the product. Or they encourage you to pay for more of their training and be taught how to sell it or recruit people better.’ 

Alice* was just 18 when she signed up to sell Kangen machines in 2017. She refuses to share her identity for fear that being associated with BAM could harm her current work within the wellness industry, as well as receiving any unwanted backlash from BamFam community members for speaking out.

‘At the time I was 18 and into a lot of new age fads – raw veganism, living in Hawaii, crystals… and then Kangen water,’ she says.

Having just moved out of her childhood home, Alice, who keenly followed the wellness influencer set on social media, was eager to start her own business so she could support herself.

‘I came across Kangen through Amelia Whelan’s posts, when she was promoting it under another MLM scheme before she started BAM,’ she explains.

Using her credit card, Alice bought the obligatory Kangen machine via social media from a woman called Maria* who at the time was also selling them under a different scheme. Since then, Maria gone onto join the BamFam and now claims on social media to be one of their top sellers – ‘Six figure earner by 22’ reads one of her Instagram posts.

‘I purchased it from Maria after she had posted a contest for giving away cash if you paid towards a machine,’ she explains. ‘I was 19 and she was much older than me – only now can I see now how manipulative that is. At the time, I had suspicions of selling Kangen that it was an MLM, but the Maria assured me it wasn’t because of how the pyramid structure was designed.

‘I also really believed that I could start my own business with it. But the truth was I had no knowledge of water science and how to further investigate these sorts of things.’

It took just a few weeks for Alice to see that she’d made a big mistake, after she realised that she would be expected to recruit other young women like herself to purchase machines.

‘I just didn’t believe I had it in me to sell water machines; they were so expensive and I felt it was wrong to target young girls and sell them a $5K product for my own personal gain.’

Soon Alice was getting hounded with daily invites from BAM members to join the movement under their mentorship – however her main concern was the amount of debt the machine was causing her.

 ‘At first I was paying $320 a month,’ she explains. ‘Having just moved out of my home, this was a lot of money that I had to work to pay off.

‘I wasn’t offered any help from Maria or anyone associated with Kangen and when I reached out to her I was told that I’d have to purchase another water machine as she was now in BAM and would have to join that group for advice on what to do next.

‘I thought that was completely ridiculous and buy purchase another machine, as I already had one which left me in debt. The whole situation was so irritating and upsetting – and I certainly wasn’t making any money from it.’

Eventually, Alice decided to call Enagic directly. 

‘I explained my situation to them and they ended up reducing my payment plan,’ she says.

Following her experience, Alice, is keen to warn other young women to avoid BAM and points to the dangers of their recruitment process.

‘I wanted the lifestyle of ‘sell water, do nothing,’ she admits. ‘But I think gradually I matured and started to see more clearly what was actually happening. The dream of moving to Bali or Hawaii with these ‘like-minded’ people got slammed with practical realities.

‘I would say if you’re considering joining BAM or selling Kangen, don’t do it. These girls are selling machines to you because they want to recruit you and make easy money. They’re targeting naive young women and that’s just not right.’

Alice isn’t the only one encouraging young people to stay away from BAM. Search online for the organisation and you’ll come across several videos and articles from ex-members, content creators and Youtubers committed to protecting other young people from BAM’s dubious claims. 

According to James Bore, it’s very clear who the group is targeting as recruits. ‘Young women who are savvy on social media,’ he says. ‘Historically women have always tended to be more likely to go for a scheme as they are more likely to need flexible work due to family commitments. But take a look at Breakaway Movement, the demographic is younger women who want to live an Insta-perfect life.’

One investigative video by Youtube channel ‘Anna’s Analysis’, which lasts for just over two hours, provides an in-depth critique of BAM’s recruitment process, business model and their pedalling of conspiracy theories and fake news. 

‘If people make a lot of money in BAM, they have done so at the expense of others,’ says Anna in her deep-dive, called ‘I Joined The BreakAway Movement So You Don’t Have To’.

 ‘BAM isn’t about selling a product, it’s about selling the dream of being a rich, full-time traveller, Instagram famous entrepreneur, something that most people will never attain.’ she goes on.

‘Misinformation is rampant because, they don’t do sufficient research themselves. Their training isn’t revolutionary like they say, it’s manipulative, and anyone who joins may start talking differently, acting differently and be averse to hearing anything negative about the group. All signs of emotional manipulation.’ 

A clip of a former BAM member in the video, whose identity is protected, reveals that Amelia and the group are ’selling a lifestyle in order to sell a product’.

‘I didn’t care at all about Kagen machines, I saw beaches and coconuts and I thought, I want that!’ says the former BAM member. ‘After one month I had had one sale and I thought ‘why is this so hard?’ I felt like I was selling a dream and I felt so ashamed to have been a part of that.’

With Anna’s video receiving over 670K views in just a few months, it’s clear that there’s a lot of interest in the way BAM works and their exploitative recruitment tactics.

Not only that, there’s also been criticism of their the tone-deaf marketing. While a video for their ‘The Vortex’ retreat may offer up a glimpse of paradise, behind those sandy beaches and endless tables of fresh fruit in Mentawais, Indonesia, 70% of island residents live below the poverty line and most have only very limited access to basic healthcare. Unlike the non-native travellers who would be able to afford to pay, if their health took a turn for the worse while visiting during a pandemic. 

And while BAM might distance themselves from the whole MLM by burying the fact that members are selling water filters, a distributor of the product who is based in the UK – and wishes to remain anonymous – said that although they hadn’t specifically heard of BAM, Kangen is an MLM and that distributors are actively trying to recruit other distributors while they sell the products.

But these aren’t the only concerns being discussed about the movement. A heavy dose of misinformation and conspiracy theories has also been discovered among the social media pages of their members.

Alongside pictures of Amelia and her partner, Matt, entwined under waterfalls and on beaches, you’ll discover posts from her telling followers to avoid all news outlets and how she’s been educating herself on ‘health, diet, lifestyle, 5G, effects of heavy metals, air pollutants and toxins’. 

There’s even a list of BAM approved media and information, which includes books by the ‘Medical Medium’, a wellness author with no medical training who also claims to receive advice and guidance from ‘divine spirits’.

Meanwhile, anti-BAM momentum also continues to grow. Videos and blog posts on the movement have views of over 100k across social media and explore the cult-like dynamic of the group, as well as the issues surrounding so-called influencer retreats more broadly.

‘If any scheme tells you that you don’t have to tell friends and family about it, then that should set alarm bells off,’ says James Bore. ‘MLMs like to isolate people so they begin to see the brand and other members as their family, the people to trust – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

‘Of course without the support of loved ones, the deeper you get into a scheme like this, the harder it is to leave.

‘It’s a form of indoctrination. But unlike other groups that might work on the basis of fear, this one works with the belief of a better life – just don’t tell anyone who might be sceptical. I’ve had to help firms whose staff have ended up being embroiled in things like this and it’s essentially like trying to unpick brainwashing. 

‘My advice would be if any scheme tells you to isolate,’ adds James, ‘you should steer well clear.’ 

Metro.co.uk have contacted both Enagic and Breakaway Movement for comment

*Name has been changed

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