There are posters, stickers and coffee mugs, flags, t-shirts and masks – all celebrating Silicon Valley “girl boss”, Elizabeth Holmes.
The fraud case of the Theranos founder has given way to a burgeoning cottage industry for merchandise venerating the disgraced CEO.
As Holmes stands trial in a California courthouse, hundreds of listings have sprung up across online marketplaces including Etsy and Redbubble, catering to “Holmies” – the name used by some followers of the former executive.
One shop called “We Are Elizabeth Holmes” has 26 products sporting original designs of the founder’s stenciled image. Some feature a favorite quote of Holmes: “First they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, then you change the world.”
Some vendors and customers seem to earnestly support the former founder, but many are embracing the in-between.
Many listings appear ironic. A common refrain – “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” – pokes fun at a wave of feminism that encouraged women to succeed within capitalism.
“To be clear, we don’t condone any criminal activity, but we’re tickled that she was able to get so far on a lie, in an industry so heavily dominated by men,” a representative from one shop said. “She’s oozes femme fatale energy and who doesn’t like a good villain origin story?”
Summer , the vendor behind Etsy shop TheTrendyVegan said she sells her Holmes t-shirts to “do a small part in opening up this conversation” around the complicated legacy of the founder.
The TrendyVegan shirts say “they hate to see a girl boss winning” with a picture of Holmes and “money over everything”. Summer said she is hoping Holmes will be found innocent in the trial, citing reports about Holmes’ planned defense that she was a victim of domestic violence and was swayed into her role as a defrauder by her ex business partner and former lover Sonny Balwani. Balwani has strongly denied that accusation.
“We need to learn to stop seeing people – and especially women – in only black or white,” she said. “In my opinion, Elizabeth isn’t a hero or a villain, but a complex and unique woman. She fought to get to achieve the levels of success she did, and she endured a lot of hardship along the way, including potential domestic abuse.”
Lauren Kreiser, a comedian who purchased a Holmes shirt from Etsy, said her choice to wear the founder’s face is part tongue-in-cheek, but also a testament to the irresistible intrigue of the Theranos scam.
“She herself is really fascinating; it is hard to tell what exactly is going on there and what her psychology is,” she said, adding that she has published an online sketch in which she plays Holmes, has seen the Theranos documentary, read the book Bad Blood, and is still listening to podcasts on the trial.
Dozens of people have flocked to the San Jose courtroom where Holmes is standing trial for defrauding clients and investments. Multiple TV series and movies chronicling the company are in production. Three women outside the courthouse in the first days of the trial were speculated to be “cosplaying” Holmes, dressed similarly to the founder and identifying themselves as “fans”.
Many people are fascinated with Holmes regardless of whether they believe she is guilty, said Edward Balleisan, a professor at Duke university who wrote the book Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff. Those who believe Holmes meant to defraud people may see her as a hero for “sticking it to the man” and misleading rich investors, while others still think of her as a Silicon Valley success story.
“It is not surprising, in a culture that celebrates people overcoming limitations to succeed that this story has been captivating for so many people – even if it wasn’t true,” Balleisan said.
Laura Gallaher, organizational psychologist and expert in company culture and its impacts, said it is unsurprising Holmes’ cult following has outlasted the Theranos company itself.
“Even though her device didn’t do what it said it would do, people are still holding on to this hero narrative because they wanted her to succeed,” she said. “People still want to believe.”
Holmes’ defense team did not reply to a request for comment on the merchandise.