For some, TikTok is a path to riches and the American dream. With a ban, it could all disappear

Jaimie Ding, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

When Lauren Wyman felt crushed under the weight of her corporate finance job in 2019, she found solace in launching a small goth and alternative clothing business.

She initially made Facebook and Instagram accounts for her shop, Dark Mother Clothing, but generated only $5,000 to $6,000 in sales the first year. Wyman, 32, joined TikTok at the start of the pandemic, launched new products and posted a couple of videos that went viral. In 2022, she grossed $217,000.

"A part of what people have done on this app is created their own slice of the American dream that is preached so much about," said Wyman, who's based in Arizona, "whether it's opening a small business or people who are no longer facing homelessness, people who are able to retire, creators who are now allowed to pursue their creative pursuits."

Now, creators worry the platform might be taken away from them. TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew testified in front of lawmakers Thursday, trying to convince them that TikTok is not a national security threat. But he was largely unsuccessful in making the case that TikTok was out of the reach of Chinese influence, observers say.

The Biden administration has recently increased efforts to force a sale of TikTok by its owner ByteDance, which is a Chinese company subject to Chinese law — the same thing Trump sought to do in 2020 with a TikTok ban that was blocked by federal courts. On March 15, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reportedly gave ByteDance an ultimatum: Sell TikTok or face a ban in the United States.

A recent bill introduced in the Senate that would enable the Biden administration to ban TikTok has bipartisan support.


An outright ban of the app would be a devastating blow to many of the small businesses that have turned to TikTok to reach potential customers instead of shelling out for more traditional and pricey forms of marketing.

Kellis Landrum, co-founder of Los Angeles marketing agency True North Social, said Facebook and Instagram are "pay-to-play" platforms that don't give as much of a return on investment.

"TikTok offers the broadest organic reach of any of the channels right now," Landrum said. "If you're very successful on TikTok, that's probably most of what you're focusing on because [as] a small business, you can't afford to attack marketing on a bunch of different fronts at the same time."

Elyse Burns, who runs a stationery and home goods design company she launched in college in 2015, said she's seen a direct correlation between her TikTok videos and sales. After posting a video featuring a shipment of day planners that got 2.9 million views in June 2022, she sold more than 2,000 day planners in two days.


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