The clothes make the woman

Un­de­terred by her use of over­seas fac­to­ries, fans of Ivanka Trump wear their pol­i­tics

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY MATEA GOLD AND DREW HARWELL matea.gold@wash­post.com drew.harwell@wash­post.com

Les­lie Koth was scrolling through her Face­book feed in early Fe­bru­ary when she saw the news that Nord­strom, cit­ing low sales, had de­cided to stop car­ry­ing Ivanka Trump’s cloth­ing line. She im­me­di­ately went on­line and snapped up a Trump-branded plum-and-pink sun­burst dress sell­ing for $138.

“I want her to con­tinue to be a good role model for women in busi­ness and forge on,” said Koth, 46, a stay-at-home mother of four in Carter­ville, Ill., who posted a photo of her­self wear­ing the dress for a Ken­tucky Der­bythemed fundraiser in May, with the cap­tion, “My Ivanka Trump Derby dress!” and an Amer­i­can flag emoji.

“I just think it is wrong for her to be at­tacked,” Koth said.

Buf­feted by her fa­ther’s tu­mul­tuous ten­ure in the White House and in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized views about her fam­ily, the first daugh­ter’s cloth­ing com­pany ap­pears to have found a new and grow­ing base of cus­tomers: women who view pur­chas­ing her prod­ucts as a way to make a po­lit­i­cal state­ment.

They post self­ies while wear­ing her dresses, cit­ing their pride in sup­port­ing Trump and her fam­ily, and urge other women to join the cause.

Trump cus­tomers, for the most part, are un­de­terred by any po­ten­tial dis­con­nect be­tween her busi­ness model — in which cloth­ing, footwear and hand­bags are all pro­duced in for­eign fac­to­ries — and the pres­i­dent’s call for U.S. com­pa­nies to hire Amer­i­can work­ers. The ar­range­ment is sim­ply a re­al­ity of the modern gar­ment in­dus­try, they say.

“When you think about it, what cloth­ing isn’t made over­seas?” said Bethany Rhoads, a 31-year-old trav­el­ing nurse, whose fa­vorite Trump piece is a black-and-white sleeve­less dress made in In­done­sia.

The loy­alty of these cus­tomers re­flects an un­usual dy­namic at play for Pres­i­dent Trump and his daugh­ter — busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives who are new to gov­ern­ment and have in­sisted on re­tain­ing their fi­nan­cial hold­ings while in the White House. While both have pledged to step away from daily man­age­ment of their com­pa­nies, their busi­nesses have nev­er­the­less been evolv­ing along with their po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

The pres­i­dent’s ho­tel and real es­tate com­pany, long fo­cused on lux­ury prop­er­ties in big cities, is launch­ing a new low-price ho­tel brand called Amer­i­can Idea in­spired by vis­its the Trump fam­ily made to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing the cam­paign. And Ivanka Trump brought her brand’s “#WomenWhoWork” motto into the White House as part of her role as an ad­viser to her fa­ther, tak­ing on fam­ily leave and child­care is­sues as a ma­jor part of her port­fo­lio.

The cus­tomer de­mo­graphic at­tracted to Ivanka Trump’s cloth­ing line has in­creas­ingly moved from “folks on Fifth Av­enue to Main Street,” said Allen Adam­son, a cor­po­rate brand mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant.

“She was ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Fa­mous,’ ” Adam­son said, adding: “But there’s been a shift in the po­lit­i­cal stance and po­lar­iza­tion of the en­tire coun­try . . . . The peo­ple in her base are more pas­sion­ate than ever.”

Ivanka Trump’s com­pany told The Wash­ing­ton Post that it has ex­pe­ri­enced a sales surge dur­ing the time that Don­ald Trump emerged as the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee and won the presidency — with rev­enue up 21 per­cent in 2016 and rising again this year, ex­ec­u­tives said.

The fig­ures could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied, as the com­pany is pri­vately held, and ex­ec­u­tives de­clined to re­lease ad­di­tional data.

“We are proud that our busi­ness is grow­ing rapidly and that our brand res­onates strongly with women who are in­spired by our mes­sag­ing and ex­cited about the pol­ished and chic so­lu­tionori­ented prod­ucts that we of­fer,” Abi­gail Klem, the com­pany’s pres­i­dent, said in a state­ment.

Among the new cus­tomers is Carly McKen­zie, a hair sa­lon owner in Lum­ber­ton, Miss., who bought her first Ivanka Trump item ear­lier this year when she en­coun­tered a white pat­terned chif­fon dress on sale at a lo­cal store.

“I loved the dress,” said the 31-year-old sin­gle mom, who has worn it to church and a fam­ily re­union. But her pur­chase was also driven by another mo­ti­va­tion: to sup­port Pres­i­dent Trump and his el­dest daugh­ter.

“I love the way she car­ries her­self, the way she rep­re­sents her fa­ther. I think she por­trays a dif­fer­ent side of Trump,” said McKen­zie, who posted a photo of her­self in the dress on a proTrump Face­book page with the hash­tag “#adorablede­plorable” — a riff on Hil­lary Clin­ton’s jab call­ing Trump sup­port­ers a “bas­ket of de­plorables,” which some re­fash­ioned into a point of pride.

For many of the women who buy Ivanka Trump clothes, the pur­chases are a way to send a mes­sage about what they like about the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I think she is the best part of it,” Rhoads said, adding that the first daugh­ter brings “a very sim­ple ap­proach” to “what feels like a me­dia cir­cus and a po­lit­i­cal cir­cus.”

Rhoads said she be­gan to ad­mire Ivanka Trump af­ter see­ing her on her fa­ther’s re­al­ity show on “The Ap­pren­tice.”

“While she is a bil­lion­aire heiress, she still posts pic­tures of her­self play­ing with her kids on the floor,” Rhoads said. “She seems very, very down-to-earth — the kind of mom that work­ing women as­pire to be.”

Tra­cie Stradling, a 47-year-old med­i­cal as­sis­tant who lives in Gil­bert, Ariz., said she first started buy­ing Trump-brand clothes about five years ago be­cause she likes the cut of her dresses.

“You don’t have to look like Ivanka for it to look good,” she said.

When Nord­strom an­nounced that it was no longer go­ing to carry Trump’s line, Stradling said she rushed out and bought four dresses. She now has more than two dozen Ivanka items.

Stradling noted that many U.S. brands make their clothes over­seas.

“Yes, I would like to see jobs stay lo­cal,” she said. “But no­body hated on her clothes un­til Trump be­came pres­i­dent.”

JAY WESTCOTT FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Bethany Rhoads, a 31-year-old trav­el­ing nurse, wears her fa­vorite Ivanka Trump sleeve­less dress in Spout Spring, Va., in May

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