Ivanka Inc.’s global reach
The president said he would return jobs; his daughter’s company uses foreign labor.
On Inauguration Day, President Donald Trump stood in front of the U.S. Capitol and vowed that his “America First” agenda would bring jobs back to the United States.
“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he declared, adding: “We will follow two simple rules — buy American and hire American.”
Looking on from the front of the
stage was Trump’s daughter Ivanka, the celebrity and fashion entrepreneur who soon would join him in the White House.
The first daughter’s cause would be improving the lives of working women, a theme she had developed at her clothing line. She also brought a direct link to the global economy the president was railing against — a connection that was playing out at that very moment on the Pacific Coast.
As the Trumps stood on stage, a hulking container ship called the OOCL Ho Chi Minh City was pulling into the harbor of Long Beach, Calif., carrying around 500 pounds of foreign-made Ivanka Trump spandex-knit blouses.
Another 10 ships hauling Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, cardigans and leather handbags bound for the United States were floating in the north Pacific and Atlantic oceans and off the coasts of Malta, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and Yemen.
Those global journeys — along with millions of pounds of Ivanka Trump products imported into the United States in more than 2,000 shipments since 2010 — illustrate how her business practices collide with some of the key principles she and her father have championed in the White House.
While President Donald Trump has chastised companies for outsourcing jobs overseas, an examination by The Washington Post has revealed the extent to which Ivanka Trump’s company relies exclusively on foreign factories in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, where low-wage laborers have limited ability to advocate for themselves.
And while Ivanka Trump published a book this spring declaring that improving the lives of working women is “my life’s mission,” The Post found that her company lags behind many in the apparel industry when it comes to monitoring the treatment of the largely female workforce employed in factories around the world.
From big brands such as Adidas and Kenneth Cole to smaller, newer players like California-based Everlane, many U.S. clothing companies have in recent years made protecting factory workers abroad a priority — hiring independent auditors to monitor labor conditions, pressing factory owners to make improvements and providing consumers with details about the overseas facilities where their goods are produced.
A hands-off approach
But the Trump brand has taken a more hands-off approach. Although executives say they have a code of conduct that prohibits physical abuse and child labor, the company relies on its suppliers to abide by the policy.
The clothing line declined to disclose the language of the code.
Trump, who now works full time in the White House, has stepped away from daily operations of her business. She has assumed a high-profile place on the world stage — a role that was on display earlier this month when she briefly filled in for her father during a meeting with foreign leaders, seated between the president of China and the British prime minister.
Trump still owns her company, which has faced increasing scrutiny in recent months for its use of overseas factories, and her representatives have said she has the power to veto new deals.
Trump did not respond to requests for comment about what efforts she made to oversee her com- pany’s supply chain before she joined the administration.
Her attorney Jamie Gorelick told The Post in a statement that Trump is “concerned” about recent reports regarding the treatment of factory workers and “expects that the company will respond appropriately.”
In the wake of Trump’s departure, the brand has begun to explore hiring a nonprofit workers’ rights group to increase oversight of its production and help improve factory conditions, the company’s executives told The Post.
Abigail Klem, who has been the brand’s president since 2013, said she is planning her first trip to tour some of the facilities that make Ivanka Trump products in the coming year.
Klem said she is confident that the company’s suppliers operate “at the highest standards,” adding, “Ivanka sought to partner with the best in the industry.”
The company had not yet matched the policies of other labels because it was newer and smaller, she added, but is now focusing on what more it can do.
“The mission of this brand has always been to inspire and empower women to create the lives they want to live and give them tools to do that,” Klem said. “We’re looking to ensure that we can sort of live this mission from top to bottom with our licensees, with our supply chain.”
The company still has no immediate plans to follow the emerging industry trend of publishing the names and locations of factories that produce its goods. It declined to provide a list of the facilities.
The Post used data drawn from U.S. customs logs and international shipping records to trace Trumpbranded products from farflung factories to ports around the United States. The Post also interviewed workers at three garment factories that have made Trump products who said their jobs often come with exhausting hours, subsistence pay and insults from supervisors if they don’t work fast enough.
“My monthly salary is not enough for everyday expenses, also not for the future,” said a 26-year-old sewing operator in Subang, Indonesia, who said she has helped make Trump dresses.
Like many U.s.-based apparel companies, the Trump brand signs deals with suppliers, which, in turn, contract manufacturing work to factories around the world. The system allows products to be sold to consumers for lower prices and creates economic opportunity — and risks — for workers in poor regions.
In China, where three activists investigating factories making her line recently were arrested, assemblyline workers produce Ivanka Trump woven blouses, shoes and handbags. Laborers in Indonesia stitch together her dresses and knit tops. Suit jackets are assembled in Vietnam, cotton tops in India and denim pants in Bangladesh — a country with a huge apparel industry where garment workers typically earn a minimum wage of about $70 a month and where some recently have faced a harsh crackdown from factory owners after seeking higher pay.
And in Ethiopia, where manufacturers have boasted of paying workers a fifth of what they earn in Chinese factories, workers made thousands of pounds of Ivanka Trump-brand shoes in 2013, shipping data show.
Klem, the Trump brand president, said the company is exploring ways to produce some goods in the United States but that “to do it at a large scale is currently not possible.”
Industry experts say about 97 percent of all clothing and shoes purchased in the United States is imported from countries where wages are lower and products can be made more cheaply.
Instead of pulling production back into the United States, the apparel industry has been focused on a different strategy: trying to reassure American consumers that their retail purchases are not the result of exploitation.
A wide range of clothing lines now inspect their own supply chains to make sure labor standards are met, the companies say. Among them is Levi Strauss, which, like Trump’s brand, licenses some of its production from a large New Yorkbased clothing distributor called G-III Apparel.
A Levi spokeswoman told The Post that the company inspects its production facilities annually and has published factory information since 2005.
Many smaller brands turn to industry-backed groups, such as the Fair Labor Association or the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, to help address factory conditions and worker treatment.
Krochet Kids, which sells dresses for less than $60, includes clothing tags handsigned by workers at its facilities in Uganda and Peru. Reformation, whose dress Trump wore to a recent congressional picnic, screens its overseas suppliers and recently moved to an expanded factory in downtown Los Angeles, where it offers guided tours.
“The questions today aren’t whether to engage in, but whether to go beyond, all the way down to the cotton fields,” said Doug Cahn, a former Reebok executive who pioneered the development of corporate codes of conduct and now consults for brands and manufacturers.
Ivanka Trump was a 26year-old model and guest judge on her father’s reality show, “The Apprentice,” when she took on her first solo venture outside the family business: lending her name and creative energy to a Manhattan diamond boutique.
Initially, Trump’s brand put an emphasis on sustainability. In 2011, her company introduced a short-lived bridal jewelry collection made from “eco-friendly” Canadian-mined diamonds and recycled platinum.
By then, she had started expanding into other products, eventually signing deals for clothes, shoes and handbags.
Shipping data show that tons of Ivanka Trumpbrand shoes were rolling off factory production lines in Dongguan, the sprawling industrial city in southern China, and onto container ships with names such as APL Beijing and Hyundai Dynasty.
Trump’s clothing line — styled to sell an image of modern metropolitan glam- our — quickly became the core of her business, with mid-market prices and an expanding collection of stylish pumps, off-theshoulder tops and flowerprint cocktail dresses.
In late 2012, Trump signed a deal with G-III, an established apparel group known for its work with Guess, Calvin Klein and celebrity brands such as Jessica Simpson. Trump’s collection flourished and, with it, production ramped up in G-III’S contract factories across China and Vietnam, according to shipping data.
In 2016, G-III told Forbes that the Ivanka Trump clothing line had generated $100 million in retail revenue in the past year.
Trump served as her company’s star marketer, wearing her brand’s nude heels and a $10,000 bracelet during photo shoots and TV interviews.
In last year’s presidential campaign, Trump took the opportunity to showcase her products on the national stage. After she paid tribute to her father at the Republican National Convention in one of her soft-pink sheath dresses, her social media team urged buyers to “shop Ivanka’s look,” and the $138 Chinese-made dress quickly sold out.
In the company’s Trump Tower headquarters, a staff of about 16 employees runs the Ivanka Trump design team, social media accounts and branding campaigns – including #Womenwhowork, a movementas-hashtag that emerged as the company’s driving motto.
Its marketing mixes promotions for evening bags with celebrations of female power. What was once advertised as trendy clothing for women in “the boardroom and beyond” has evolved into what Ivankatrump.com calls “a solution-oriented lifestyle brand, dedicated to the mission of inspiring and empowering women to create the lives they want to lead.”
In recent months, however, efforts to market the upbeat Ivanka Trump clothing brand have run headlong into the polarizing Trump political brand.
Klem said the controversies have not hurt sales. She declined to disclose figures, but said that the brand’s business is “growing rapidly.” Revenue was up 21 percent in 2016, with continuing growth in 2017, executives said.
President Donald Trump talks with his daughter Ivanka during a working session at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, earlier this month.
Carly Mckenzie, holding an Ivanka Trump dress that she has worn to church and a family reunion, says her purchase was driven by the motivation to support President Donald Trump and his oldest daughter.