LAUREN, a Democrat from Maryland, makes an impassioned case for not shopping at Ivanka Trump, the business founded by Donald Trump’s daughter. First comes a predictable argument; she abhors supporting any brand that uses the Trump name. Second, the sparkly sandals she bought back when Ms Trump was a tabloid celebrity, not an adviser to the president, fell apart within a year. Shoppers will soon be able to take such complaints directly to sales staff: the brand is about to open its first standalone store, in Trump Tower in New York.
Floral frocks, stilettos and bangles aimed at the mid-market customer do not often inspire strong reactions, but Ms Trump’s fashion line is divisive. Though Ms Trump distanced herself from her company in January, she owns it and receives money through a trust. Some consumers are boycotting it. Others have purged their wardrobes of items they already own. Thredup, a second-hand fashion site, says users listed double the number of Ivanka items for sale in the first five months of 2017 than in the same period last year. But lots of Trump fans have also spent to express their support.
Ms Trump started her firm in 2007 as a diamond-jewellery boutique selling $50,000 products. But competing with established designers proved difficult. The company rebranded, capitalising on the popularity of a book, “Lean In”, by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, with a new campaign: #WomenWhoWork.
Using feminism to sell $100 office frocks worked well. In 2015 the company’s clothing line alone reportedly generated $100m. Abigail Klem, who became chief executive in January, said that in 2016 sales rose by 21%. Ms Trump’s visibility during the campaign helped.
But in February Nordstrom, a department store, dropped the fashion line and Neiman Marcus, another upmarket retailer, stopped selling the jewellery. Both cited declining sales. The brand has edged downmarket. Its biggest retailers are Lord & Taylor, Zappos, Macy’s and Walmart. According to Edited, an analytics firm, 84% of Ivanka Trump footwear is discounted, by an average of 55%.
Ms Klem has said the company now wants to build an identity separate from Ms Trump. The new store’s location will not help. Asian consumers, moreover, appreciate the bond between Ms Trump and her brand. Its profile has risen sharply in line with hers. A popular Japanese shopping site, Waja, started selling dresses from the Ivanka Trump fashion label in 2012. It sold nearly 30 times as many Ivanka products in November 2016 as it did in the same month of the previous year. The label now outranks Kate Spade and Calvin Klein on the website.
In China the line is so coveted that fake Ivanka merchandise has flooded the market, and the brand has registered at least 16 trademarks there. Three of them were granted on the same day Ms Trump joined her father and Xi Jinping, China’s president, for a steak dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Abroad, if not at home, Ms Trump’s style may turn into a wardrobe staple.