The Trump Brand Is Hurting. Just Ask Ivanka.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The "aize slingback kitten heels" ($125) and the "starburst dress" ($128) won't be available much longer. The "ketty sandals" ($99), the "lapis stud earrings" ($25) and the discounted ($109) "classic blazer" will also go to the fashion graveyard. That's because Ivanka Trump has decided to shutter her namesake apparel and accessories business, about 18 months after her father's inauguration made her an influential White House figure and globetrotting quasi-diplomat.
There's the rub, though. Ivanka didn't really step away, just as President Donald Trump has chosen to remain in the orbit of his namesake venture, the Trump Organization. Trump's eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are running that business day-to-day, but they still consult with their father about the company's prospects and share financial information with him.
The Trumps have spoken occasionally about their respect for good government and their desire to avoid financial conflicts-of-interest given that the paterfamilias is now the most powerful man on the planet. In practice, the Trumps have all played fast and loose with their relationships to their businesses, and Ivanka hasn't been an exception.
Sure, Ivanka hired someone else to run her company when she went to Washington. But she remained a beneficiary of whatever financial success her firm enjoyed after she departed. It would have been simpler and more ethical for her to have sold the business the moment her father was elected.
Shortly after the election, Ivanka appeared on "60 Minutes" while wearing a bracelet marketed by her business. Her company put out a "style alert" the next day featuring a photo from her TV appearance and noting that Ivanka was “wearing her favorite bangle from the Metropolis Collection on ‘60 Minutes.’” Critics said Ivanka was trying to make hay off of her father's election; her company apologized and blamed the incident on a zealous employee.
That incident wasn't a one-off, however. During the presidential campaign, Ivanka's company marketed one of her dresses as similar to one that she wore during a speech at the Republican National Convention.
However entrepreneurial and opportunistic Ivanka might have been in deciding to hang on to her business, it ended up presenting her with some problems she may not have expected.
Last week, while Ivanka was promoting her father's "Pledge to America’s Workers" by calling "upon the private sector and industry leaders to do their part and invest in the advancement of our current and future workforce," a nettlesome issue arose: Would Ivanka's company, which uses overseas workers to make her nifty garments and doo-dads, repatriate her company's jobs?
While Ivanka never addressed that question, she was asked by a reporter last weekend whether "the Trump Organization might sign the pledge too?" She responded that she thought it was a "great idea" but that she would "recuse” herself “from calling them." (The president's Palm Beach business, the Mar-a-Lago club, recently sought permission from the Labor Department to hire 78 overseas workers as cooks, waiters and housekeeping staff, so maybe the Trump Organization won't be signing the pledge anytime soon.)
The Trumps might be suffering through a bit of unexpected brand damage, too — and that, as much as anything else, may have convinced Ivanka to close shop. The Post reported that since Trump's inauguration, Ivanka's apparel and accessories line has been dropped by a number of major retailers, including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Jet.com and Hudson Bay.
Her father isn't immune; his company has struggled to expand its footprint with Mr. Trump in the White House. His golf course operations in Scotland, for example, have drawn the ire of some of the locals in places like Aberdeen. “Critics argue that Trump is now an ‘international pariah’ with a brand so toxic it can only damage the reputation of Aberdeenshire,” the Herald, a Scottish newspaper, noted recently.
The Journal said that Ivanka's business, launched in 2014, saw sales jump during the 2016 election before encountering damaging consumer boycotts after that.
Ivanka, or someone with knowledge of her thinking, also told the Journal that she had grown "frustrated by the restrictions placed" on her company to "avoid possible conflicts of interest." I get that. After all, in January 2017 her company had to drop a distribution deal in Japan that involved a partnership with a Japanese company with ties to the Japanese government. Not being able to capitalize on your father’s political and government connections can make it harder to do business. (Even when Ivanka has appeared to successfully capitalize on her connections, by winning trademark coups in countries such as China and the Philippines, for example, she's still called out for conflicts in a way that might make any conscientious businessperson uncomfortable.)
So Ivanka is finally moving on, but she'll continue to bring her myriad talents to the White House.
"I do not know when or if I will ever return to the business," she told the Post. "But I do know that my focus for the foreseeable future will be the work I am doing here in Washington, so making this decision now is the only fair outcome for my team and partners."
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”
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