At Saks Off Fifth recently, an Ivanka Trump white polyester and spandex blouse made in Indonesia was marked down to $34.99, from $69. A few racks over, her black and white jacket came from Vietnam, while several blocks away, at Macy’s, her leather bootee manufactured in China sold for more than $100.
At the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, a $35 blue cotton cap embroidered with “Trump National Golf Club” was made in Bangladesh. A Trump Tower hoodie from Pakistan set tourists back $50.
A majority of clothes these days are made anywhere but in America. And in this era of local pride and nationalistic fervour, that has become a political liability. The conflict is starkly evident in the apparel brands made and marketed by President-elect Donald J. Trump and his daughter Ivanka.
Mr. Trump has cast companies that make goods in China and other foreign countries as economic pariahs, syphoning off jobs better left at home. He has blamed the system, a set of policies in the United States that Mr. Trump acknowledged using for his own gain. And since being elected, he has continued to rail against global forces, threatening to punish companies with high tariffs if they don’t move production to the United States.
Should Mr. Trump make good on such promises, he would take aim at not only his own brand, but his daughter’s as well.
Mr. Trump doesn’t stand to lose much. While his goods are largely manufactured overseas, most of his retail ventures have gone the way of Trump vodka and steaks. And what products can be found – at his hotels and golf courses and on Amazon sold by independent sellers – are the vestiges of a mostly defunct clothing line or sporadic shipments of Trump sweatshirts and hats.
Ivanka Trump’s company, by contrast, is the type of operation that Mr. Trump is squarely aiming for. Her shoes and dresses largely retail for less than $150. Coats cost as much as $400.
Factored into those prices is the cost of materials and production, as well as shipping, tariffs, marketing and advertising expenses. Cheap production overseas means more coin in the coffers of Ms. Trump and the shoe, accessory and clothing makers that are her partners, among them Marc Fisher footwear, the G-III Apparel Group and Mondani. (Ms. Trump’s company, which is privately held, does not disclose its financials.)
Almost all of her goods are made overseas, according to a New York Times review of shipments compiled separately by Panjiva and ImportGenius, two trade databases. ImportGenius tallied 193 shipments for imported goods associated with Ms. Trump for the year through Dec. 5, mostly Chinese-made shoes and handbags. Her dresses and blouses are made in China, Indonesia and Vietnam, according to a review of hundreds of clothing tags and financial documents filed by G-III.
It is the harsh reality of the clothing business.
Before Ms. Trump started her shoe and clothing lines in the early 2010s, she did what any well-connected New Yorker would, consulting corporate chieftains, fashion designers and department store executives. She ultimately decided to license her name.
Since then, Ms. Trump, 35, has pondered making some items in-house. Investors were consulted, and a business plan was drawn up – but the project was scrapped, said one person briefed on the discussions. It was costly and impractical, so suppliers continued to make her clothes overseas.
“When I started my business, I recognised where my strengths were and knew that I didn’t have any experience in production and manufacturing,” Ms. Trump said in a rare interview.“I am not a designer. I am an entrepreneur.”
In retail, where margins are slim, overseas manufacturers are crucial to profits. Most of the clothing Americans buy at Walmart, Macy’s and Target are made abroad, including 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
It is part of a long history of American garment manufacturers chasing cheap labour. They moved to China in the 1980s, then elsewhere in Asia. Now, Chinese shoemakers are building factories in Africa, where wages are about $40 a month, compared with $400 in China.
Even then, an overseas strategy does not portend survival, as Mr. Trump’s experience shows.
At Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the Trump Store is downstairs from the lobby, sandwiched between a restaurant and an ice cream parlour. While a $65 white polo golf shirt from Lesotho in southern Africa was available, there was no sign of many of Mr. Trump’s other items, like the dress shirt made in Vietnam on display upstairs.
Last year, Macy’s dropped Mr. Trump’s clothing line over inflammatory comments he made about Mexican immigrants. Now about the best place to find his ties, dress shirts and accessories is on Amazon.com – and even that stock is just a hodgepodge.
The company that made Trump-branded comforters Ivanka Trump and sheets, Downlite, said it had ended its relationship with him last year. His beds, designed by Dorya, aren’t in stores, either. They are made to order overseas, according to the company.
Mr. Trump said in campaign interviews that he would like to make his apparel in the United States, but that it was hard to find companies that did. When George Stephanopoulos of ABC pressed him to explain, Mr. Trump said, “They don’t even make the stuff here.”
That is not exactly true.
B J Nickol, president of the All American Clothing Company, based in Arcanum, Ohio, said he employed 15 people, as well as subcontractors in about 20 states who cut, sew and ship shirts, jeans and sweaters. He estimated it cost All American $10 to $15 to manufacture a polo shirt, including fabric and labour. He sells them for about $28 to $38, or about half of what a polo shirt costs at Trump Tower.
While the company mostly sells shirts to individuals, Mr. Nickol said he would welcome a big-time customer like Mr. Trump. Mr. Nickol said he had witnessed the impact on his community when apparel manufacturers moved away. “And the only way we could think of to fix that was to keep jobs here,” he said.
While large-scale clothing manufacturing is unlikely to return to the United States, speciality items or high-end apparel has promise. Todd Shelton, a fashion designer who makes sleek separates and sells them online, sews his clothes at a factory in East Rutherford, N.J.
But there are trade-offs, namely price. A pair of women’s jeans made by Todd Shelton costs $200; an Oxford shirt is $180.
And cost is only one factor. Fashion is another.
Recently, Ms. Trump tried to make a flip-flop in the United States. She and one of her main partners, Marc Fisher, shopped a design to retailers, according to a person with knowledge of the venture. Buyers, though, didn’t like the design – and it never got made.
With the Ivanka Trump brand, another variable now comes into play: politics.
Ms. Trump served as a more polished emissary of her father’s messages during the campaign, and she is under pressure to bring jobs home. And in a postelection era, her carefully crafted public persona, which is at the heart of the brand, is at risk.
Ms. Trump has found a way to commercialise female empowerment, selling petal pink sheaths and trendy shoes to young professionals on the go. Her brand’s hashtag #womenwhowork often accompanies pitches to buy her satchels and clothes.
“She wants to make sure her reputation is unblemished,” said Marshal Cohen, a consumer behaviour and retail analyst at the NPD Group, a research firm.
Ms. Trump is already facing some blowback.
She was criticised for meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan while completing a licensing deal with a company whose largest shareholder is wholly owned by the Japanese government. Consumers offended by her father’s inflammatory comments about minorities continue to boycott her line.
Ms. Trump acknowledged the potential appearance of conflicts as her father prepared to move into the White House. She said she would step down as the head of her namesake brand if asked to become an adviser to her father and the Trump administration.
“I would completely separate myself from my businesses,” said Ms. Trump, who is also considering a leave of absence from the Trump Organization, where she serves as an executive vice president for development and acquisitions. Representatives for Mr. Trump declined to comment.
But it will not drastically change her company’s strategy. She and her team do not plan to move manufacturing back just to quell critics.
“It’s great to say we want to do all of this, but we want to make responsible business decisions, too,” said Abigail Klem, president of the Ivanka Trump brand. “From a business perspective, we have to have longevity.”