Ivanka Trump, facing criticism about conflicts of interest as her father ascends to the White House, has embarked on efforts to separate herself from her eponymous label. For instance, in November, she began to distinguish her personal social-media accounts from those of her lifestyle brand. Moreover, the Ivanka Trump editorial team confirmed that the future First Daughter will only be using her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts for personal messages – rather than to distribute brand-related imagery and information. The newly created “@IvankaTrumpHQ” accounts will deliver content related to her business, which spans women’s apparel, jewelry and footwear.
More recently, Ms. Trump made it known that she will step down from her executive role at her brand – at least temporarily – to work in Washington. Per Vanity Fair, “the decision comes as [Trump’s husband Jared] Kushner, a real-estate heir who runs his family business and owns the legacy New York newspaper The New York Observer, accepted a position as senior adviser to the president, serving under his father-in-law.”
In order to comply with ethics laws, Trump has decided to step down from management and operations of the Trump Organization and from her eponymous fashion brand, and will resign from all officer and director positions she currently holds within each of them, according to a statement from Kushner’s attorney.
A statement from Trump’s brand, posted on IvankaTrump.com in late November further notes: “This is an unprecedented time for our company and we are being intentional in how we move forward, working hard to ensure we’re creating the best possible community for our readers. We’ve been listening to the feedback we’ve received, both positive and not, and we’ve been taking it into consideration as we plan for the future.”
The changes come not long after the Ivanka Trump brand came under fire for sending a “style alert” to journalists promoting a gold bracelet that Ivanka Trump wore during an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The piece was part of her jewelry collection.
This misstep also comes after the brand was named in a trade dress and design patent infringement lawsuit by high fashion footwear company, Aquazzura, which alleged that Trump copied a number of legally-proected shoe designs. Still yet, Trump has also been subject to scrutiny for both domestic and international labor matters. From maternity leave to the state of the garment factories in which the Ivanka Trump Collection garments and accessories are made, the brand has been a topic of consistent critical discussion.
The question remains: Just how effectively can Ms. Trump really distance herself from a brand that bears her name? It certainly does not seem as though it will be as easy as establishing distinct social media entities. Up until the close of the election, Trump was actively building a persona that was actively involved in her company. Speaking to Vogue in February 2015 about her brand, which she launched in 2007, Trump said: “I’m serious about this; I’m not just a name, licensing a product without any involvement.”
As the New Yorker noted this past August, “When Ivanka’s not on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower, working alongside her brothers, she’s on the twenty-second floor, with her all-female brand team, running ivankatrump.com, a site that offers advice on beauty and parenting, and a series of profiles called #womenwhowork.” An array of other articles depict her similarly, as hands-on when it comes to her brand, which has seemingly proved beneficial. The brand generated $100 million in revenues in the last fiscal year, according to G-III, the $2.3 billion apparel giant that manufactures and distributes Ivanka’s wares.
That well-known, well-documented level of involvement (until recently, at least), paired with the fact that the brand bears her name, will likely prove at least slightly problematic as Ms. Trump tries to separate herself from her company. Not only will potential conflicts of interest (either legal or ethical in nature), such as the 60 Minutes marketing ploy, be frowned upon more harshly, given the brand’s very direct ties to Ms. Trump. This will likely continue to be the case even when she has, in fact, distanced herself from the brand, not only in terms of social media handles but in practice, as well, given her new-found level of media attention.
As Vanity Fair notes, Kushner and Trump putting their day jobs on hold, “puts an unprecedented level of power in the hands of a young couple with no prior political experience, placing them at the center of an inner circle within the West Wing. Both are endlessly ambitious and, by choosing to divest and disengage from their successful businesses, sufficiently concerned about their future in Washington to play by the ethics rules.”
Nonetheless, the Ivanka Trump Collection needs to get its ducks in a row, and promptly. Consider the field day the media has had with the Aquazzura v. Trump lawsuit, an objectively run of the mill intellectual property infringement case; you may recall that Aquazzura filed almost the exact same lawsuit against footwear brand, Steve Madden. That case, in contrast, has received little media attention, a testament to the level of interest that now surrounds Trump. This is just a single demonstration of the fact that Ms. Trump and her business endeavors will be judged more harshly than ever. And this will likely continue regardless of whether she is an active participant in the company.
First Daughters have, after all, been routinely subject to no shortage of scrutiny. Rush Limbaugh notoriously called 13-year old Chelsea Clinton, the “White House dog,” when she was the First Daughter. More recently, Liz Lauten, the former communications director for Congressman Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, took to her Facebook page in 2014 to address what First Daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama (ages 13 and 16), wore to the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, writing:
Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.
With her role as First Daughter approaching quickly and her stepmother taking a rather noticeable backseat role, thereby thrusting Ivanka even further into the limelight, all eyes are on Ms. Trump and her brand. It makes a difference – legally and ethically – that she is formally disassociating herself with her brand (note: She will sell all of her common stock and restructure her participation in Trump Organization transactions, as well, so that she no longer benefits from the profits), but it is unclear as to whether that will help in the court of public opinion.
While the pretty, well-dressed mother of three may not be subject to criticism for her looks or her wardrobe (the typical insults hurled at First Daughters), if her brand continues to make missteps, they will be on her, regardless of whether she shares an Instagram handle with the brand or not, and regardless of whether or not she is formally associated with it. They bear the same name, after all, and that – regardless of the technicalities – is significant.