By Rosemary Feitelberg
with contributions from Lisa Lockwood
 on January 10, 2017
Ivanka Trump

What will Ivanka do?

While many try to surmise what Ivanka Trump’s unofficial role will be in her father, President-elect Donald Trump’s, administration, her decision to step aside from her namesake company and her executive role at the Trump Organization has fired up all sorts of speculation.

Now that her husband, Jared Kushner, has officially been named a senior adviser in his father-in-law’s White House, Ivanka Trump also has been busy trying to extricate herself from any business dealings that could create potential conflicts of interest.

Collected, professional, organized and unwaveringly on-message in her business dealings, the future first daughter seems to be leaving her fashion company’s leadership to president Abigail Klem, who started her career as a lawyer. Klem first delved into fashion by joining Diane von Furstenberg, helping to make that label more of a global lifestyle brand. Her colleague, Rosemary Young, oversees the marketing and public relations for what is said to be a $100 million brand.

Executives at Trump’s namesake label declined to comment Tuesday on what severing any ties to her company will mean. Even executives at G-III, one of Trump’s main licensees, are uncertain of her exact next move regarding the label. Sammy Aaron, president and vice chairman of G-III Apparel Group, said Trump has been very involved in her apparel collections at G-III, which include dresses, sportswear and coats. The company has a scheduled meeting with Trump within the next seven days where they will be apprised of her situation.

“Right now, we’re in the dark,” Aaron said.

He said Trump is great at what she does. “If she was told to make matchbooks, she’d find a way to make very good matchbooks. I think she’ll be great at anything she does,” Aaron said.

Should she relinquish her responsibilities at G-III, Aaron said, “We’ll live. Business will go on.

“I’m sure she’ll come up with an answer. She’s a smart woman, let’s hear what she has to say,” Aaron said. G-III has had the license for Trump’s apparel lines for about three years. “It does well,” he added.

Neil Saunders, retail analyst at Conlumino USA, said of Trump’s push-back from her signature brand, “Obviously it will still carry her name and it will be a label she founded. In some ways, it takes some of the criticism away from the brand and the focus that some have suggested the brand should be boycotted because it’s associated with her. They don’t necessarily like the politics of the family. Overall, it’s going to have quite a muted effect on the brand and its trajectory. Although her involvement had been important, people will continue to buy and assess the brand based on how it sells, and the styling of those things. That remains more important than perhaps who is at the head of it.”

But regardless of her official tie to the company, the brand is still very much associated with her, Saunders said. “Therefore, the brand’s fortunes are still tied up with her and her future roles and images. If she does have a more public role and her role becomes more political, potentially that could have an adverse effect on the brand if some of the things that occur are things that people take exception to. Equally well, if she does something politically that people say, ‘Oh, that’s good and favorable.’ That could have a positive effect on the brand.”

Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a New York marketing group that conducted two Ivanka Trump brand-related surveys in recent months, doesn’t expect her latest executive decision to have much effect on the business. “I don’t think it matters to anyone. Style, price and distribution have a lot more to do with sales than the person who was a founder of the company,” he said. “Her stepping away from it, what do you now lose? What do you think that she brought to the party that the talented designers behind-the-scenes aren’t doing? I think she leaves, and no one cares.

“Ivanka Trump is not the brand. She is the ceo of the brand. I don’t think there is that deep a resonance of who she actually is,” he said. “Prior to her dad becoming president-elect, or running for office, the clothing was a label that was out there. It wasn’t enormous. Ralph Lauren, it was not. She’s certainly not a human brand the way her dad is.”

Shannon Coulter, the San Francisco-based marketing executive who has called for a boycott of the Ivanka Trump brand, certainly isn’t giving up on the idea. Asked whether Trump stepping away from her company will change her call for a boycott, Coulter said, “No, a written statement from Jared Kushner’s attorney doesn’t make me rethink a single thing. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are public figures. They’re involved at the highest levels of politics. According to most ethics attorneys including George W. Bush’s former Chief Ethics Council, they’re most likely about to break federal anti-nepotism laws.
“Until they start answering to the American public in the form of things like televised press conferences in which journalists have the opportunity to ask detailed questions about their many different machinations, all of their statements — for me — fall squarely into the category of p.r..”