Experts Answer: Is It OK for Ivanka Trump to Wear Her Own Brand as a Special Assistant to the President?
Ivanka Trump has built a lifestyle empire that is largely associated with her own image.
As a mother of three, she has been the brand’s most visible promoter, and her image aligns with its aspirational narrative. But she is a political power player now with an influential role as special assistant to the president of the United States — her father, Donald Trump.
It’s evident that Brand Ivanka’s world-stage marketing cachet is incalculable — and its alignment with globally watched affairs, catapulted by the power of the White House, is a boost to any label.
When she joined the presiden at a workforce development roundtable in Wisconsin on June 13, she accessorized her outfit with her namesake leather Greenwich Dove handbag ($224.53 on Amazon.com).
More political occasions have included Ivanka’s own brand in the spotlight.
In May she held a high-profile meeting on human trafficking alongside the president and congressional leaders in the White House, where the 35-year-old had on her Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry collection’s Montmartre diamond drop “Y” necklace. The sparkler retails for $2,720 from Ivankatrumpfinejewelry.com — an e-retail portal that links directly to her personal Instagram page.
San Francisco-based retailer Modern Appealing filed a lawsuit in March claiming that Ivanka Trump’s brand gained an unfair advantage over other retailers “from Donald J. Trump being the president of the United States and from Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared, working for the president of the United States.” Marc Fisher Footwear continues to hold the footwear license for the brand, and when reached for comments on the matter, a representative for the company responded that it “does not comment on contractual agreements.”
Ivanka formally separated heading the operations of her namesake brand last year and announced in March her new job in the White House. The Ivanka brand includes shoes, apparel, jewelry and handbag categories, and she often wears her line at political functions, though she is not a part of its operations.
The company has been placed in a trust run by husband Jared Kushner’s family while she pursues her passions in her White House role, she confirmed on CBS in April.
We asked experts in a variety of disciplines in ethics and protocol to answer a simple question: Is it OK for Ivanka Trump to wear Ivanka Trump?
Here’s what they had to say.
The psychologist: Loretta Brady, Ph.D., director of the Ethics in Governance Institute at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.
“I look at ethics as behavior and decision-making. It’s more than just the action of wearing her own materials and items, it’s also her expectations and signals for others around her. On one hand, she has individual choice and she can wear her own brand from one place to another — that’s her [decision] to make. On the other hand, how obvious and clear is it that she’s wearing her own things? You have to think, what are the norms associated with the role or the values and ideals? Ultimately she has to wear shoes — whether it’s hers or another designer; it’s not just one choice, but there are several — and it’s about how others adapt in response to her decision. My advice would be, if you can choose behaviors that don’t put your behaviors under question, why not choose that? If it causes other people to second-guess your intentions, if your intention is to have a public role, why not make as many choices as you could to demonstrate that kind of commitment?”
The philosopher: Skye C. Cleary, Ph.D. MBA; a philosopher and Columbia University professor. She is the author of “Existentialism and Romantic Love.”
“A deontological perspective would ask: What is Ivanka’s moral duty? As a special advisor to the president, Ivanka has a moral duty to separate her private interests from her public role. Wearing her own clothing line blurs these interests. The problem is not just that she wears her own clothing line, though, but rather it’s that she wears them as an advertisement. Would it be OK if everyone in a public position used it to boost their private interests? The answer ought to be no. From an existential perspective, we might say that Ivanka is free to do as she chooses and wear whatever she wants, but she has to be ready to accept the consequences of her actions.”
The historian: Katherine A. S. Sibley, Ph.D., professor, director of the American Studies Program at Saint Joseph’s University. Sibley is an expert on first ladies and the children of U.S. presidents.
“Jackie Kennedy [wife of President John F. Kennedy] was into clothes, Mamie Eisenhower [wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower] had Dior … but it is different than marketing your own brand. I think it is problematic. [Ivanka] is not a first lady, but she’s an advisor — and there’s an expectation of decorum and restraint. Lou Hoover [wife of President Herbert Hoover] may have worn her own clothes, but when Ivanka is wearing her own line, she is more visible. There’s a commercial incentive to be more visible, and it skews her role. I saw her on a show recently, and I don’t think she tries to hide it. In the context of first ladies, they have always been careful about appearances. For the first time it’s hard to separate [President Trump’s] commercial life than that of being a president. She shouldn’t be singled out because her father is doing the same — his resort is on TV.”
The etiquette expert: Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, advises and trains professionals in cross-cultural and international protocol through her Austin, Texas-based firm.
“It’s the rhetorical question: Should designers wear their own designs? It’s like wearing the concert T-shirt of the concert you’re going to: You might do it, but you don’t do it every day. I think there’s a time and a place for everything. I would encourage my client to wear fashions in a design that expressed her personality, professionalism and her goals. I would encourage her to have a wide range [of brands] and not narrow her choices, because there has to be a variety, and if it were me, knowing that I am a cultural consultant, if I were advising someone in a role in the U.S. government, I would advise them to look at every U.S. designer. In this particular role, that would be really important, to support U.S. designers — known and unknown.”
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