At the White House Congressional Picnic this week, Ivanka Trump played with her daughter Arabella in the Rose Garden wearing an appropriate frock for the setting: a floral print, off-the-shoulder white dress.
The dress is notable not because it’s by the Ivanka Trump brand or because it’s ridiculously expensive, two lightning rod sartorial topics for which the Trump women are frequently lambasted. Instead, the outfit choice is notable because the $198 dress is from the brand Reformation, popular among Instagram It Girls. The brand is also known for being dedicated to sustainable fashion, a topic on which Trump, as the head of an apparel and accessories business, has remained notably silent.
Sustainable fashion includes both responsible manufacturing and labor practices, as well as providing supply chain transparency; none of which is currently done by the Ivanka Trump brand.
The Ivanka Trump line, operated by the G-III Apparel Group and sold in department stores across the country, is manufactured in China, and investigations into Ivanka Trump brand manufacturing practices revealed that workers are overworked and underpaid, that is, when the supply chain is uncovered at all. (Trump herself retains control of her apparel company, despite transferring control and assets into a trust in March after taking a formal role in her father’s administration.)
In a statement provided to Yahoo Style, Abigail Klem, head of the Ivanka Trump brand while Trump herself is on an indefinite leave of absence, says, “Ivanka Trump HQ is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognized labor standards across their supply chains. Our licensees and their manufacturers, subcontractors and suppliers must comply with all applicable local and international labor laws, and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct.”
The irony of wearing a dress by a sustainable fashion brand is not lost on industry insiders. Orsola de Castro, founder of the sustainability advocacy group Fashion Revolution, says Trump’s clothing choice sends a “funny message,” given her company’s opaque supply chain.
“We jokingly did a Transparency Index on Ivanka Trump’s line, but there’s really zero, zero transparency whatsoever.” The Transparency Index to which de Castro refers is a list that Fashion Revolution compiles, ranking the 100 top global fashion companies based on their supply chains, social, and environmental impact.
Meanwhile Reformation, the brand behind for the dress Trump wore on Thursday, remains deeply committed to sustainability. Founded in 2009, the company designs, produces, and operates completely in its downtown Los Angeles headquarters.
As for transparency, Reformation recently opened its factory to the public, providing weekly factory tours that show how the company’s recycled materials go from deadstock fabric to garment.
Sustainable fashion brands face serious headwinds when it comes to competing with fast fashion retailers who can afford to keep up with exhaustive trend cycles. According to McKinsey, Zara offers two dozen new clothing collections each year, and H&M offers about half that.
A company like Reformation — which focuses on reducing pollution through responsibly-sourced materials and manufacturing — cannot afford to produce nearly as much. It takes Reformation about a month to produce and sell a garment, and about two weeks to reproduce top-selling items. Since sustainable materials are used, you’ll never find two pieces of clothing that are totally identical.
So, while Ivanka Trump reportedly urged the president not to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, her pleas failed. Perhaps they’d hold more weight if she’d focused on a sustainable fashion line first.
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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.