Oat milk, flower crowns, mini gardens in mason jars, Instagram tips and handwritten letters — those were just some of things Caroline Calloway promised those who bought $165 tickets to her "Creativity Workshops." Over the course of the last month, Calloway went from floating the idea of a workshop on her Instagram Stories to launching a world tour of workshops, then canceling the tour, before recently un-canceling it.
Calloway rose to Instagram fame in 2014, building a tight-knit online community after sharing lengthy stories about her seemingly idyllic life and fairytale boyfriend at Cambridge University, which she later sold to Flatiron Books in a $500,000 book deal.
She backed out of the deal over creative differences with her publisher in 2017 having never written the book, putting her $100,000 in debt. She's tried various ways to recoup the money, from selling $5 annotated chapters of her book proposal on Etsy to offering up her presence at events for up to $10,000.
Calloway promised to share her wellness secrets with fans on the tour, scheduled for early 2019 in New York, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Charlotte and Washington, D.C, with plans to expand to Europe and the U.K. The tour has become infamous since being documented on Twitter by writer Kayleigh Donaldson, who warned early on that the tour sounded like a scam.
The saga began in December 2018, when Calloway first debuted the idea for her workshops on Instagram Stories. She said she wanted to share her knowledge about writing, getting over heartbreak, building a personal brand and general wellness.
The idea quickly snowballed. She collected money for tickets from her fans through the event planning website Eventbrite and quickly sold out many of the U.S. tour dates. At that point, Calloway had not booked event spaces, hired photographers, put together care packages, or ordered any of the required supplies.
Attendees were meant to get a four-hour seminar, comprised of a session for attendees to meet over coffee and tea with oat milk without Calloway's presence, a homemade salad for lunch, lectures by Calloway, orchid crowns, handwritten letters and care packages filled with things like notebooks, crystals and mason jar gardens.
Having almost no event planning knowledge, Calloway made error after error. She ordered 1,200 mason jars — to be filled with "mini gardens" for attendees — to her West Village apartment, quickly overwhelming the space. She promised homemade salads, but realized cooking for 50 people the night before an event was an impossible task. She tried to hire freelance photographers and videographers for free, only offering to pay them after receiving backlash. She told her followers they wouldn't be receiving the handwritten letters she'd promised because they were taking too long to write. She ditched the idea of orchid crowns, bringing a few clip-in flowers instead.
Calloway admitted she felt overwhelmed. She canceled many of the dates, and also toyed with the idea of moving every workshop to New York City. After online backlash spurred from Donaldson's thread, Calloway canceled the tour altogether. She documented the entire process on Instagram Stories.
"Someday I am going to earn enough money so I can travel to you with my team and my care packages and my gifts and create THE HIGH F---ING QUALITY EVENT I WANT TO CREATE," Calloway wrote on Instagram Stories. She said she would refund everyone who had purchased a ticket.
"Event creators set and manage their own refund policies, however, if an event is cancelled, our policy is that refunds are required," an Eventbrite spokesperson told CBS News. "To confirm, all attendees of these cancelled events were refunded."
Calloway, who did not respond to a CBS News request for comment, did end up hosting two seminars: one in Brooklyn on January 12 and one in Washington, D.C on January 13. She said people who attended gave "overwhelmingly positive" feedback.
"I wanted to create an experience that would be my perfect weekend day, with cozy acoustic music and a plant-filled space," Calloway told BuzzFeed News Tuesday. "If I had known how hard it was, I never would've tried," she said.
Some fans supported her efforts, but many more have begun to question their loyalty to Calloway, who has a history of backing out of commitments. Two of Calloway's many dedicated fan accounts changed their handles and said they no longer wanted to affiliate themselves with "a brand we do not trust or believe in."
"Sitting here I began starting to question that. 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?" one fan, Abigail Scott, wrote in an open letter to Calloway Sunday.
Calloway's workshops have gone viral the same week Netflix and Hulu have released competing documentaries on Fyre Festival, the infamous 2017 event that promised attendees a luxury music festival in the Bahamas but provided an empty beach with cheese sandwiches and no musical acts. Critics have called Calloway's saga a smaller-scale Fyre Festival due to her lofty promises but lack of follow-through.
Even after all of that, the story isn't over. On January 16, Calloway un-canceled her tour.
"I canceled my tour because I was frightened and feeling worthless because if you read enough bad things about yourself on the internet you will start to believe they're true," she wrote on Instagram Stories. "But after taking some time to process, I have decided that I am confident in myself and the value my workshops provide."
She asked her followers to apply for tickets over email, rather than continuing to use Eventbrite. She said she would choose a few of the applicants to receive "scholarships" to attend the event for free. She said the new workshops would have a section on resiliency. "I wonder why? OH WAIT," she wrote. She's promising longer sessions of teaching, catered food and care packages.
On Saturday, she posted a picture of the Brooklyn event space, complete with a "FYRE FESTIVAL" banner. She'll be wearing a shirt that says "SCAMMER" during the event.