Things are looking dark at the Trump White House, and not just because his aides reportedly can’t figure out how to turn on the lights in the cabinet room. Amid growing concerns among ethics experts that President Trump is not doing nearly enough to avoid conflicts of interests with his businesses, the one member of the Trump family who is arguably the most popular with the American people— his older daughter, Ivanka — is seeing her brand face boycotts and backlash since her father’s ascent to the presidency.
Though Ivanka’s brand saw sales rise during 2016, its performance has apparently suffered enough in the wake of the election for major department stores, including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, to drop its merchandise entirely. Likely contributing to these falling sales is the Grab Your Wallet campaign, which encourages shoppers to vote against Donald J. Trump’s policies with their pocketbooks.
Compounding the bad PR surrounding Ivanka Trump’s brand is the way in which her father has recently used his office to benefit his daughter’s business. This week, Trump called out Nordstrom for the “Terrible!” choice of “treating [Ivanka] so unfairly” on Twitter, then retweeted his criticism on the official @POTUS account. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, went so far as to tell Americans to “buy Ivanka’s stuff,” a move which struck just about everyone who knows anything about federal ethics law as… a violation of federal ethics law.
But Ivanka’s use of the platform afforded to her by her father’s political career is nothing new: Ever since her father won the GOP nomination for the presidency last summer, Ivanka has capitalized on her public appearances to shill her own designs. Read on for a comprehensive guide to Ivanka’s dicey history of using her father’s political career for personal profit.
July 18 – 21, 2016: Ivanka wears dresses from her collection to the Republican National Convention
Signs that Ivanka would use her father’s presidency as free marketing begin to appear at the Republican National Convention, where Ivanka wears two dresses by her label. One, a blush-colored shift, not yet on sale, but a similar style is available for purchase at Nordstrom’s website for $138. The other, the Ivanka Trump Floral Party Dress, retails for $158.
On her official website, Ivanka posts a dispatch from the RNC, calling it “undoubtedly… the biggest moment in my family’s life to date.” The post includes photos of Ivanka and her family at the event with captions detailing which items from the Ivanka Trump Collection that Ivanka is wearing in each image, plus links to where visitors can buy the pictured wares. Ivanka also tweets out a link so her followers can “shop the look.”
October 11, 2016: The #GrabYourWallet boycott begins
Shannon Coulter and Sue Atencio, who met on Twitter, team up and announce that they will boycott any retailer that carries Trump products “with the goal of motivating those companies on the list to stop doing business with the Trump family.” That night, they publish a list of retailers to boycott; three days later, Coulter launches the #GrabYourWallet hashtag, referencing Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood hot mic moment while tipping a hat to the significant buying power of women.
October 17, 2016: Ivanka says “I don’t intend to work for the government.”
In an interview with Fast Company, Ivanka insists she has no plans to work in the Trump administration. At the time, even though calls for boycotts are beginning to gain steam on Twitter, Fast Company reports that Ivanka’s “major retail partners,” including Nordstrom, “show no signs of discontinuing their affiliation.”
The story also notes that “Ivanka’s appearances on the campaign trail, and in the audience at presidential debates, have doubled as free marketing,” pointing out that the dress she wore at the RNC quickly sold out.
November 13, 2016: The ‘60 Minutes’ style alert for a $10,800 bracelet
Less than a week after the election, the Trump family appears on 60 Minutes. Ivanka wears a bracelet from her label, and fashion journalists are sent a “style alert” by Monica Marder, vice president of sales for Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry. The announcement — which is a standard practice for designers when an actress wears their brand on the red carpet, but not so much when someone related to a person in elected office is shilling their own products— let reporters know that the first daughter to be was wearing “her favorite bangle from the Metropolis Collection,” which is available at two price points: $10,800, or, for that working-class voter, $8,800.
White House as QVC. It has started. pic.twitter.com/jk0DeQJ9vV
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) November 15, 2016
The email encourages reporters to “please share this with your clients” (an odd choice of words, considering reporters have “readers,” not “clients”) and marks the first time Ivanka utilized her new position as daughter of the president-elect for personal profit.
November 14, 2016: Shoes.com drops all Ivanka Trump products
A representative from the company says that all the Ivanka Trump products were cleared out of the warehouse on November 11, officially because “they were not selling well.” On Twitter, however, Shoes.com replied to boycotters using the #GrabYourWallet hashtag, saying “We want to support our customers and make sure they can continue to stand tall.”
November 23, 2016: Grabyourwallet.org goes live
“A small GYW team” keeps track of the inventory of companies on the list — including Nordstrom — and drops them from the boycott once GYW can verify that official Trump products are no longer sold at that retailer.
January 11, 2017: Ivanka announces she “will take a formal leave of absence” from her and her father’s businesses
In a Facebook post, Ivanka makes it official: “When my father takes office as the 45th President of the United States of America, I will take a formal leave of absence from The Trump Organization and my eponymous apparel and accessories brand. I will no longer be involved with the management or operations of either company.”
She announces that she and her family will be moving to Washington, D.C., and that her husband, Jared, will serve as senior advisor to the president. “I plan to take time to settle our three young children into their new home and schools.”
January 20, 2017: Donald Trump is sworn in as the President of the United States of America
Ivanka opts for Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera for all the inaugural festivities.
February 2, 2017: Nordstrom drops Ivanka Trump’s brand
Chalking up the decision to performance, not politics, a company spokesperson for Nordstrom tells Racked, “We’ve said all along we make buying decisions based on performance. We’ve got thousands of brands — more than 2,000 offered on the site alone. Reviewing their merit and making edits is part of the regular rhythm of our business. Each year we cut about 10 percent and refresh our assortment with about the same amount. In this case, based on the brand’s performance, we’ve decided not to buy it for this season.”
On Twitter, Nordstrom says that these decisions are made “season to season” and can’t confirm whether or not Ivanka merchandise will be available at the retailer in the future.
An official response from an Ivanka Trump spokesperson follows:
The Ivanka Trump brand continues to expand across categories and distribution with increased customer support, leading us to experience significant year-over-year revenue growth in 2016. We believe that the strength of a brand is measured not only by the profits it generates, but the integrity it maintains. The women behind the brand represent a diverse group of professionals and we are proud to say that the Ivanka Trump brand continues to embody the principles upon which it was founded. It is a company built to inspire women with solution-oriented offerings, created to celebrate and service the many aspects of their lives.
That same week, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores send a note to employees telling them to throw signs for Ivanka Trump products into the garbage. As the New York Times will report on Feb. 8, the email instructed employees that “all Ivanka Trump merchandise” was to be removed from the racks “immediately,” and “all Ivanka Trump signs should be discarded.”
Doreen Thomspon, a spokeswoman for TJX Companies, tells the Times that the instruction did not mean to “remove [merchandise] from the sales floor,’ only to get rid of the special displays. But an employee says “she had not received such a request during her several years working there.”
February 3, 2017: Neiman Marcus drops Ivanka Trump’s fine jewelry line
Racked reports that jewelry from Ivanka’s line has vanished from the store’s website and a sales associate confirmed that the jewelry had been pulled from at least one store. Coulter tells Racked that, previously, Neiman Marcus offered 21 products from Ivanka’s line for sale, including a $12,000 diamond bracelet.
Neiman Marcus issues a statement, citing poor sales as the reason for pulling Ivanka’s line:
Neiman Marcus has a very small Ivanka Trump precious jewelry business which is comprised 100 percent of consigned merchandise (merchandise owned by the vendor). Based on productivity we continuously assess whether our brands are carried in stores, on our website, or both.
February 6, 2017: Belk Department store drop all Ivanka products from its website
The chain, which has 300 locations in 16 states, tells Racked via email: “We continually review our assortment and the performance of the brands we carry. And we make adjustments as part of our normal course of business operations.”
February 8, 2017: Donald Trump is apparently not too busy running the country to tweet about a department store, calls Nordstrom “Terrible!”
Though Ivanka has yet to comment personally on her own social media about any of the news surrounding her brand — doing so would be a major deviation from her standard operating procedure of tweeting and Instagramming as though politics do not exist — her father decides to chime in. He tweets that his daughter (who, point of interest, is a 35-year-old woman, definitely an adult, wouldn’t even qualify to stay on her parents’ health insurance under Obamacare, assuming Obamacare continues to exist) is being treated “unfairly” by Nordstrom:
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017
The tweet is retweeted by the official @POTUS account:
Richard Painter, a former chief White House ethics counsel under George W. Bush, tells the Washington Post in an email that Trump’s tweet about Nordstrom is a “misuse of public office for private gains.” Painter is part of a team behind a lawsuit alleging Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause, which states that “no person holding any office of profit or trust under” the United States “shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
“I have never seen a senior administration official lash out at a particular company based upon a strictly personal grudge,” Painter said.
For the defense, we have House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who tells CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Trump’s Nordstrom tweet is not “a big deal.”
When asked whether it was appropriate for the president to comment on his daughter’s business, Chaffetz responded, “I think most people can relate to the fact that a father, a doting father with very successful children is going to look after those children and, you know, if he sees something going wrong, he’s going to call it out.”
Hopefully Chaffetz won’t get in trouble with POTUS for calling Donald a “doting father,” considering Trump has gone on the record to say that his job as a parent is to “supply the funds” while his wife “take[s] care of the kids” and that, when it comes to his children, “I won’t do anything to take care of them.” Hands-on parenting, Trump said in a 2005 interview with Howard Stern, has never been his “thing.”
Also on February 8, 2017: A word from Sean Spicer
White House Press Secretary and noted gum-swallower Sean Spicer allocates some time during his briefing to reporters to defend Trump’s tweets, saying, “I think this is less about his family’s business and an attack on his daughter. He ran for president. He won. He’s leading this country. I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”
Spicer adds that even though Ivanka is “not directly running the company” because “it’s still her name on it, there are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. Her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”
Yes, it is still February 8, 2017: Nordstrom responds
Nordstrom issues another statement, clarifying that its decision is based on performance and that they’ve “had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team”:
To reiterate what we’ve already shared when asked, we made this decision based on performance. Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now. We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we’ve seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.
By the end of the day, Nordstrom’s shares are up five percent.
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) February 8, 2017
February 9, 2017: Kellyanne Conway tells America to “buy Ivanka’s stuff” in what sure looks like a violation of federal law
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump and coiner of the 1984-style term “alternative facts,” makes an appearance on Fox & Friends via satellite from the White House briefing room. During this interview, Conway implores viewers: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, but I am going to go get some myself today. This is just — it’s a wonderful line, I own some of it, I’m just gonna give a free commercial here, go buy it today, you can buy it online.” Meanwhile, a #BuyIvanka hashtag begins to circulate on Twitter.
If you have a feeling such behavior — the endorsement of a product by the president’s daughter by a counselor to the president from the White House — is illegal, you’re onto something: Federal ethics law prohibits the endorsement of products by federal officials.
As Seth Meyers would say, it’s time for a closer look! Here are the regulations specifically regarding endorsements:
Don W. Fox, former general counsel and former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, tells the Washington Post that Conway’s free advertisement “is jaw-dropping to me.”
“Conway’s encouragement to buy Ivanka’s stuff would seem to be a clear violation of rules prohibiting misuse of public office for anyone’s private gain,” he said.
Campaign Legal Center general counsel Lawrence Noble, who tweeted early on that it “appears” Conway “violated ban on Federal employee using public office for endorsement of product,” tells the Post that the violation is so clear, “I don’t see what their defense is.”
“She did this on television. She was very clear it was advertising. Hopefully at the very least they will acknowledge this is wrong.”
When asked about Conway and her probable ethics violation at a White House press briefing, Spicer says, “Kellyanne has been counseled on that subject and that’s all — I’m going to leave it at that.”
The afternoon of February 9, 2017: Some actual oversight from the House Oversight Committee Chair
Although House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz thought his boss’ tweet wasn’t “a big deal,” he tells the AP that Kellyanne Conway’s audition for QVC was “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”
The Republican congressman said the White House must refer the matter to the Office of Government Ethics for review. He said he and Democratic Oversight Leader Elijah Cummings are writing a letter to the office and he will also write to President Donald Trump about the matter.
Chaffetz tells the AP, “It needs to be dealt with. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
February 11, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that sales of Ivanka’s products at Nordstrom were in decline in 2016
“Sales of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line tumbled 32% at Nordstrom Inc. last fiscal year, with the declines deepening in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election,” the WSJ found, citing internal data from the department store. Sales of Ivanka Trump’s products were down more than 70 percent in all but the first week of October 2016 compared to the same weeks in 2015. (The election was November 8.)
Also on February 11: Sears and its subsidiary Kmart announce they will no longer sell Ivanka Trump products online
Reuters reports that Sears called the move “part of a push to focus their online business on the most profitable items,” a very gentle way of saying that Ivanka’s wares weren’t selling.