Victorian commercial photographer, Carly Soderstrom, whose emotional video pleading for help after Covid-19 lockdowns wrecked her small business ‘went viral’, has been accused of likely trading while insolvent and misappropriating crowdfunding money.
The Torquay-based photographer amassed a large following by posting outspoken social media content, which slams state government lockdowns for destroying small business. In mid-July, her video about the impact of the fifth Victorian lockdown went viral, leading to a TV interview with Nine’s Today Show.
Here’s a few quotes from her now-deleted video:
‘I’ve never asked for a handout, and here I am on my knees begging for someone to listen to me.’
‘Our country is pushing me into f—— bankruptcy! And meanwhile, half the country just f—— watching.’
‘These businesses have nothing left. We don’t have any f——- cash, we don’t have any savings. We can’t afford to keep paying our staff. There is no money.’
A stranger to Soderstrom saw the video and launched a GoFundMe campaign to help the struggling photographer, and in less than a week the ‘Carlzjsoda relief fund‘ raised over $60K. While the campaign was active Soderstrom, listed as the campaign beneficiary, posted an update stating plans to split the money with ‘sole traders whose lives are also in turmoil’.
It has since been revealed that Soderstrom’s last business venture, an active wear company called 21.15.Nine, went into liquidation pre-pandemic with over $400K in debt. Unsecured creditors are owed $386K, including one man who was left $220K out of pocket by the failed company. The ATO was also owed $65K.
ASIC documents show the liquidator, PCI Partners, suspect Soderstrom, the sole operator, was ‘likely trading while insolvent’ but this cannot be proved without being handed the books. Given the 21.15.Nine online shop is currently still active, it certainly appears the business is still trading in some form.
This information was unearthed by Josh Reid Jones, an entrepreneur who had this to say about Soderstrom in a video:
‘This person claiming to be the representative of small business, the every man, and freedom and all of these sorts of things, is also the person who has wound up a company while owing $400K,’ he said. ‘Just at the beginning of 2020, as we go into one of the most challenging economic periods for a lot of families, individuals, and small businesses.
‘Then after that has gone and bought new equipment, set up a studio at home, and gone on holidays after liquidating a company that was unable to pay the people or companies that it had been purchasing things from to the tune of $400K. And then asked for money from people, who out of the goodness of their hearts have reached into their pockets and contributed. I just think that there are so many people, so many places that would benefit from that.’
Soderstrom claims on Instagram that ‘21.15.Nine blew up, kind of overnight and I had a wild ride for eight years. I closed the company just as the pandemic hit after very much falling out of love with my industry and looking for something else that made me want to get out of bed in the morning’. She then became a self-taught professional photographer, who apparently taught herself the ropes by shooting her own business products and then watching YouTube videos.
‘When the pandemic hit, I took a huge risk and took $10k out of my superannuation to build a photography studio in my own home. Turns out that was the best decision I could have made, as Melbourne went in to nine months of lockdowns. I connected with businesses around Australia and started refining my craft. Today I work as a commercial photographer…’
While Soderstrom’s Instagram sometimes promotes her photography and a new apparel venture, most traction comes from her politically-charged posts about lockdowns destroying small business.
The fine folks at A Current Affair (ACA) initially interviewed the photographer, alongside other small business owners, in a segment criticising the latest Victorian lockdown. The ACA team then cottoned on to the holes in Soderstrom’s story and deployed reporter, Alexis Daish, to Torquay to do further digging.
In the segment ACA interviewed a former friend of Soderstrom, who lent the photographer $10K to start a new apparel company with an agreement to pay back the money in June 2020. They also spoke with other unnamed sources who have had sour business dealings with the photographer, including one gym owner claiming she owes him over $100K.
The former friend said shortly after lending Soderstrom the money, the photographer took an expensive mid-pandemic trip to Bali.
After the $60K crowdfunding money was transferred into Soderstrom’s account last week, she immediately paid her $10K debt to the former friend. ACA, armed with that ‘gotcha’ moment, asked Soderstrom about her plans with the money, who responded that she no longer wants anything to do with it.
‘I rang the CEO of GoFundMe Australia yesterday, Nikola, and the money did clear today,’ Soderstrom told ACA. ‘It’s just sitting in an account, I haven’t touched it and I don’t want to touch it. It’s terrifying me.’
The ACA host then reveals they know she repaid her $10K debt with the money, and Soderstrom has a moment of panic and shuts down the interview.
The man who started the GoFundMe, Michael Smith, posted an update to the campaign page stating he ‘became aware of possible allegations of fraud and it was never my intention to mislead the public’. However the money is now in Soderstrom’s hands, and he hopes she will ‘do the right thing with the money, by refunding or giving it away to other struggling small businesses’.
Soderstrom, on the other hand, claims Michael initially refused to shut down the crowdfunding campaign after she asked him to do so, and so she was forced to go ahead with it but decided to split money with small business. She now plans to send the remaining money back to Michael, and it will be up to him to decide what to do with it.
‘Michael Smith, I never wanted the responsibility for this amount of money,’ she posted to Instagram. ‘You wouldn’t stop the campaign when I asked you to. Now it’s up to you to take responsibility for this money and show the world that it is going to the people who you said it would go to’.
The Daily Mail Australia, a fine tabloid masthead, claims GoFundMe campaigns cannot be launched without the permission of the recipient.
But at the end of the day, a viral video encouraged a stranger set up a crowdfunding campaign to help another stranger, and hundreds of strangers around the country gave away their money. And it’s all ended in a great mess!