When Elizabeth Holmes’ biotech empire began to fall apart in 2015, hundreds of Theranos employees were laid off without warning. One former clinician was fired so suddenly that she walked out still wearing her lab coat. That employee, speaking to ELLE using the pseudonym Syreni S. Terram (Latin for “mermaid on land”), says it collected dust in her closet for six years before she started to see dollar signs in the relic of the first self-made—and self-destroyed—female billionaire.
Terram posted the coat on Poshmark, where she’s received an influx of messages ranging from “Will I speak in a lower voice if I wear it?” to “This would look good with my enron shirt!” The listing garnered so much interest that she decided to sell her half-zip Columbia fleece embossed with the Theranos logo.
At $17,010 (a nod to the former Palo Alto Theranos headquarters at 1701 Page Mill Road), the price to own a sartorial piece of biotech infamy is steep—but there’s a niche group of women who just might be willing to pay. They call themselves the “Holmies.”
On TikTok, the Holmies congregate using the hashtag #GirlBoss to praise their “leader” and “queen” Elizabeth Holmes. They look up to her as an inspiration who, as one TikTok-er put it, “made billions over a complete lie.” While many Holmies do, in fact, recognize the inherent wrongness of celebrating a fraud who endangered the health of tens of thousands of people, they remain unapologetic in their support for the embattled techpreneur, who currently faces a dozen felony fraud charges.
With the spirit of a true #GirlBoss, Terram is taking advantage of the standom. “Most people seem to be rooting for Elizabeth’s demise,” she tells ELLE. “However there is a group of women who are true fans… and are supportive of the strong female leader that she truly is. In this regard, I am all for the celebration of female empowerment and strong, ambitious women.”
Ask a Holmie, and they can pinpoint the exact moment they went from hater to stan. Some cited Holmes’ now infamous Steve Jobs-esque black turtleneck. Others say it was her luxurious lifestyle post-indictment. For 21-year-old influencer Serena Shahidi, the obsession started after finding out Holmes allegedly used a fake deep voice to sound more authoritative.
“The idea of a woman pretending to have a very masculine quality in order to gain trust and attract investors is quite the reflection of female entrepreneurship,” Shahidi tells ELLE.com. “I was fascinated by her story and the way it showed the greed and immorality of a woman. That’s a very taboo subject.”
In a now-viral TikTok video, Shahidi explores the idea that a contentious woman can be a celebrated figure. Bad men become cultural icons all the time—take Jordan Belfort, Pablo Escobar, or Martin Shkreli, for example. So why not women, too? “Like every human, women are neither inherently good nor bad,” she explains. “Women need villains too, just like we need heroes.”
The comment section of Shahidi’s TikTok has morphed into something of a digital gathering ground for Holmies, who hashtag their videos #GirlBoss. The term, coined in 2010 by former Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso, was meant to be seen as a form of genuine celebration of female entrepreneurship and empowerment. Since then it’s become an ironic critique of that exact culture.
“[The term] has entered a sort of post-ironic area in which female evil is celebrated, which, like all things, is both a joke and not,” says Shahidi. “It is deeply gendered no matter in which way it is used, but in my book, it is a woman who gains power by being ruthless and unsympathetic. It’s a negative term insofar that it refers to a dark side of humanity, but it also makes light of the fact that we’ve been simultaneously taught that women should be passive and serve men, and that women should contribute to capitalism as much as possible and sacrifice ourselves in order to do so.”
You can roll with the Holmies on TikTok wearing swag from Etsy’s BigFunShop, which sells Holmes-themed gear. The woman behind the merch is 24-year-old Rania Blaik, who found out about Theranos from a TedTalk Holmes gave in 2014. At the time, Blaik thought the blood-testing company seemed “legitimately cool.” But when HBO’s The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley came out in 2019, she realized she had also fallen for the mythology of the prodigy tech founder. “I was never sympathetic,” she says. “I was more engrossed with the scope of it, and how her image was always squarely at the center of it.”
Blaik started her Etsy business at the beginning of the pandemic. In just a few months, she had sold more than 1,200 masks, t-shirts, and mugs. “A lot of people don’t realize that the Elizabeth Holmes ‘fandom,’ if you can even call it that, is mired in irony,” she says. “I get a good amount of people who ask why I support her if she is a fraud. I think it’s funny to act daft in response and say things like ‘girl bosses support girl bosses’ followed by a string of pink emojis.”
Holmes’ future remains no laughing matter; She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. While some former Theranos employees want to see her serve time, there’s no bad blood between Terram and her former boss—as long as she can continue to monetize off of her cult of personality. Because what’s more #GirlBoss than that?
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