- Win McNamee/Getty Images
- Ivanka Trump regularly advertises her fashion brand’s clothes and accessories by wearing them while conducting official government business.
- The Wall Street Journal found that the first daughter wore her brand’s products in 68% of her social media posts documenting official government business during her first seven months as an official White House employee.
- Ethics experts say that while the practice doesn’t violate any laws, Ivanka is likely reaping enhanced personal profits by promoting her brand from her public platform.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and top White House adviser, may no longer control the day-to-day operations of her fashion company, but she continues to advertise her eponymous brand’s clothes, shoes, and accessories by regularly wearing them while conducting government business and in her heavily documented personal life.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the first daughter wore her brand’s products in 68% of her Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook posts documenting official government business between March 29, when she officially became a White House employee, and the end of October. Business Insider found that six of the 24 outfits the first daughter wore in the same category of posts in November and December featured her brand’s dresses, bags, or shoes. The items were identified by the celebrity-fashion website Star Style.
And these numbers don’t include outfits Ivanka wore in non-work related social media posts or in public work appearances not documented on her accounts.
Testing the ethical limits
While the first daughter has placed her privately-held company in a trust run by her husband’s siblings, she has not divested from it and continues to receive financial information about the company and an annual multi-million dollar share of its profits.
Unlike her father, whose status as president shields him from conflict of interest laws, Ivanka, as an executive branch employee, is prohibited from promoting brands from which she benefits or “endorsing products, people, or companies.” Fundamentally, the ethics rules seek to prevent government officials from misusing their office for private gain.
The first daughter has taken some steps to distance herself from her brand, including separating her personal social media accounts from those run by the company and removing her photo from the company’s marketing materials, but many government ethics experts say that while she’s not violating the law, she’s not doing enough to minimize personally profiting from her powerful public position.
“Ivanka Trump is testing the boundaries on federal rules that bar government employees from using their position to promote brands that personally enrich them,” Guian McKee, a professor of presidential studies at the University of Virginia, told the Journal.
Responding to The Journal’s reporting, Ivanka denied that she is motivated by profit, using her decision to take her unpaid White House job as proof.
“If what motivated me was to grow my businesses and make money, I would have stayed in New York and done just that,” she said in a statement to The Journal.
Of course, Ivanka’s high-profile administration post has significantly boosted her domestic and international fame, giving her arguably a much broader personal platform than she would otherwise have had.
Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, called Ivanka’s response to The Journal’s reporting “laughable” during a Wednesday CNN segment.
“She’s one of the rare government appointees in the White House who has not divested her financial interests and that puts a higher burden on her to be conscious of what she’s doing at all times,” Shaub said, adding that Ivanka could have divested her financial interests or donated her profits while in office.
‘A marketing genius’
Ivanka’s brand was built on her personal celebrity. In recent years, she’s marketed both her company and herself as a champion of working women, publishing a book last year, “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” that offers advice on achieving career and personal goals.
During her father’s presidential bid, Ivanka, one of the candidate’s chief advisers, regularly marketed her brand from the campaign trail. In July 2016, her Twitter account shared a photo of her delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention and linked to the Ivanka Trump brand dress she wore, encouraging followers to “shop Ivanka’s look.” Later that day, the $158 blush colored sheath dress sold out.
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) July 22, 2016
Many have argued that Ivanka is intentional about what she wears in public – and what appears on her online accounts – and knows they will receive media attention, including from fashion sites that are paid by retailers for sales made through their links to the products they sell.
“Ivanka is a marketing genius,” CNN correspondent Cristina Alesci said during the Wednesday CNN segment. “So she knows what she wears will get covered.”
Ivanka’s marketing practices began receiving heightened scrutiny following the general election. During the presidential transition, which Ivanka was involved with, the company marketed a $10,800 bracelet Ivanka wore during a CBS News “60 Minutes” interview, a move that sparked backlash.
Many items the first daughter has worn while in her government role – often reported on by fashion sites, which provide links to purchase the items – have sold out soon after. As CNN pointed out earlier this week, the first daughter wore the “Ivanka Trump cold-shoulder sweater dress” at a NASA event on December 11 and shortly thereafter the dress sold out on Macy’s website.
As The Journal pointed out, Ivanka has regularly worn items that became available after March, rather than simply things she acquired prior to her White House employment. And Ivanka buys all of her clothes and accessories, rather than receiving them for free from her company, according to a source who spoke with The Journal.
As The Journal pointed out, first ladies and celebrities of a similar stature, including first daughters and members of royal families, often cause sales and stock values of retailers and brands they wear to spike. But the profits from this free promotion don’t usually benefit them.
While the brand’s sales shot up following the inauguration, online sales have reportedly since declined. And some retailers, including Nordstrom, have dropped the line, citing profitability concerns. In December, the brand opened its first brick and mortar shop, located in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, which has become a tourist attraction over the last year.