- Caroline Calloway, an Instagram influencer, said she would cancel her tour of $165 seminars on creativity after a Twitter thread calling it a “scam” went viral.
- Calloway originally described the seminars as four-hour lessons with salad lunches personally created by her – along with an orchid crown workshop.
- But her program soon morphed to a bring-your-own hummus meet-and-greet with shorter lessons.
- Calloway said “greed” got the better of her and that she would refund everyone who paid for the events.
Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway said she’s canceling her tour of $165 seminars and refunding the roughly 1,000 people who signed up for the sessions, after a viral Twitter thread accused her of running a scam.
Calloway, 26, boasts an Instagram following of nearly 1 million people. In posts on Twitter and Instagram, Calloway said that criticism of her seminars – which promised lessons about creativity, as well personalized care packages, an “orchid crown” making workshop, and salads personally made by Calloway for attendees – were valid and that the price tag was too high.
“I was overconfident in believing that I had something to offer people that was worth $165 dollars and this experience has been incredibly humbling,” she wrote. “I’m cancelling the rest of the tour. Everyone will be refunded today.”
— ◥◤Caroline Calloway (@carolinecaloway) January 14, 2019
Journalist Kayleigh Donaldson had been chronicling the progress of her tour on Twitter for the past month. She described it as a "scam," writing about how Calloway's plan incrementally changed from a meal-included creativity seminar to a food-less meet and greet between aspiring influencers. The thread has elevated Calloway's tour into the annals of failed viral events organized by influencers, like TanaCon and an Instagram expert series run by the influencer Aggie Lal.
Potential problems with refunds
Calloway didn't have basic details locked down even as she made tickets available for her tour - including locations an spaces in which to hold the events. She then cancelled events in Philadelphia and Boston, choosing to hold events on those days in Brooklyn instead. A separate event date in Denver was also cancelled for unclear reasons. Calloway says all ticket holders at those locations will receive refunds.
But it's unclear how that will happen. According to Donaldson, events on "The Creativity Workshop" tour were listed three weeks in advance, which meant they wouldn't fall under Eventbrite's refund policy, which requires that ticket buyers cancel their tickets a 30 days in advance.
Calloway also seemed out of her depth when it came to organizing the event series. She first tried to hire an unpaid photographer for one event, before receiving backlash from her fans and then choosing to pay a photographer for their work for one event. She also panicked about ordering 1,200 mason jars because she wanted to give all attendees "a portable DIY wildflower garden to take home" as part of her care packages - but realized her West Village studio apartment hardly had room for them.
In her Instagram stories, Calloway also made bizarre claims about herself and her planned events. She said she pioneered using long Instagram captions to tell stories, and said an unrelated event sponsored by a beer company, with the music duo Matt and Kim, was her afterparty - despite the concert being in no way affiliated with Calloway.
Donaldson's tweet went viral this weekend with a flood of updates about the tour appearing to fall apart, since Calloway failed to book some venues and people who attended the events said it was poorly organized.
That Instagram influencer I occasionally check in on because she's The Worst is now charging $165 for a 4 hour "seminar" on how to be yourself. pic.twitter.com/zLvBFn9dPI
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) December 20, 2018
UPDATE: She's clearly been guilt tripped into, you know, paying people for their services. But she's "honestly a little overwhelmed" about how she's going to pay for it all. Should have thought of that before you started scamming! pic.twitter.com/QL2tpIyKsg
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) December 28, 2018
So a reminder: For $165, you'll get a 4 hour workshop, one hour of which the host won't actually be there. You won't get the handwritten letters she promised, you won't get chairs to sit on, and after this event, you may not even get the lunch she promised. So what do you get?!
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) January 12, 2019
Anonymous DM from someone who attended one of the workshops. pic.twitter.com/6x2V3WEKiC
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) January 13, 2019
'Am I stupid for trusting you?'
Calloway's fans also criticized her poor planning. Abigail Scott, an influencer who bought a ticket for Calloway's San Francisco event but asked for a refund when she saw her retreating on her promises, published an open letter Sunday on her blog saying she was "duped."
"Am I stupid for trusting you? Are we the real punchlines who spent our hourly wages to support you and see your 'workshop'? Is this an instance of blind faith? AM I IN A CULT?" she wrote. "There is never a good reason to dupe people. ESPECIALLY those who quite frankly adore you."
Eventbrite, which hosted the event information on its site, said it would investigate Calloway's events.
Thanks! I can confirm that this organizer has already been reported to our Trust & Safety team, and I have now escalated this. They will investigate as soon as possible. We appreciate your report!
— Eventbrite Help (@eventbritehelp) January 14, 2019
Calloway rose to fame in 2015, when she reportedly sold a memoir based on her Instagram posts about falling in love at the University of Cambridge for $500,000. Her publisher, Flatiron Books, ultimately cancelled her contract after she lost interest in writing the book, she told Man Repeller in 2018. She admitted she'd already spent her $165,000 advance and is in the process of repaying it to Flatiron Books.
"I realized the boy-obsessed version of myself I planned to depict as my memoir's protagonist was not one I could stand behind," she told Man Repeller. "I think there are a lot of people who would have written the book anyways and taken the money, but I couldn't do it."
Calloway used to sell chapters of her unfinished book on Etsy, but has since removed the product from the site. She also deleted several posts where she listed her price points for sponsored content - which at its highest was $1,000 for a brand mention in an Instagram story and $5,000 for a regular Instagram post.
Donaldson excoriated Calloway in an essay for Pajiba, where she called her dishonest and incompetent.
"Caroline Calloway is merely the sloppiest and most obviously incompetent version of the influencer economy run amok," she wrote. "Calloway's main problem is that she doesn't want to be an artist or a storyteller or a writer: she wants to have made art, to have told stories, to have been a writer, to have taught, and so on. But that requires work, research, planning, sacrifice, and an acute understanding that not everything you do will be successful or worthy of celebration. She has nothing to offer but is selling everything."
In her post apologizing for her seminars, Calloway blamed herself for the event falling apart, and said "greed" got the better of her.
"I take full responsibility for letting my total inexperience with event planning and GREED create a situation where the details of the tour were ever-changing, preparation was inadequate, and the event did not match the description by the time it went on," she wrote. "To anyone I've disappointed or outraged - I have so much empathy for how you must be feeling right now."
Neither Calloway nor Eventbrite immediately responded to INSIDER's request for comment.
If you bought tickets for one of Calloway's events, let's talk. Email me at [email protected]
This post has been updated.
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