Recently, after accepting a press invitation to an upcoming gala, I was told by a cheerful representative briefing me on the event, “This will be very formal black-tie attire, so take advantage of the opportunity to bring out your ball gown.”
I entered somewhat of a scramble: I wouldn’t say I frequent parties like these, and don’t necessarily have a closet stocked with the appropriate wear to do so (the last time I had to go to a black-tie event I borrowed the entire outfit from Rent the Runway). After mulling over renting again, I settled on a long velvet dress I already owned and consulted a friend who works in fashion on how to accessorize. For shoes, she suggested a simple nude pump and sent me the link to a perfect pair of square heels from Macy’s. At $115, the price was certainly right for the Ivanka Trump shoes. I was ready to toss them into my online shopping cart immediately when one small problem nagged me: I noticed the shoes had an Ivanka Trump label, the entrepreneur and daughter of current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The consumer world is full of ethical conundrums like these. Urban Outfitters sells T-shirts celebrating same-sex marriage but has a chief executive who doesn’t support gay rights. American Apparel touts its ethical production practices but reportedly has an egregious sexual harassment problem on a corporate level. Apple has championed causes like privacy and ethically sourcing the metals for its phones but has been criticized for poor working conditions in its factories.
As a journalist, I try to keep my personal opinions out of public discussion, but on some level, wearing Ivanka’s pumps felt not unlike wearing “Make America Great Again” hats on my feet. On Nov. 8, voters may use their votes to show what they think about Donald Trump, but in the meantime, some people are choosing to make a stand with their wallets — not targeting Mr. Trump himself, but his daughter.
After a tape of lewd comments Trump made about grabbing and kissing women without their permission surfaced earlier this month, one California marketing specialist launched a #GrabYourWallet campaign on Twitter, encouraging consumers to boycott Ivanka Trump clothing and calling on stores that carry the brand to drop it. I’m not opposed to hashtag activism, but this campaign to me seemed misplaced — not because Ivanka shouldn’t be held responsible for her father’s actions, which has been argued. Working on her father’s campaign and giving speeches at Republican events have associated her with him — and his actions.
It is one thing for consumers to take ethics into account when making purchasing decisions, but in the #GrabYourWallet campaign, consumers aren’t boycotting Ivanka Trump due to her poor maternity leave practices, tendency to copy other designers or factory conditions, but her politics. Such a self-imposed rule — only purchasing products from companies whose CEOs have political views you agree with — seems unenforceable, and ultimately not all that impactful to the retail world. Perhaps these commerce-activists would be better off shifting their attention to fair factory conditions and labor practices, a much more quantifiable and searchable metric of ethics. Fast fashion, in which companies like H&M, Forever 21 and Zara churn out new styles and trends quickly through cheap production methods and poor working conditions, has created an environmental and humanitarian crisis. Avoiding companies that contribute to the fast-fashion cycle could arguably have a bigger effect than boycotting someone whose father you don’t agree with politically.
Even still, tracking down that information can be an equally difficult quest. Many clothing companies are not publicly traded and don’t disclose data about worker conditions and the long supply chain involved in the clothing industry makes it difficult to guarantee any product was made ethically from start to finish. Ivanka Trump’s brand is no different: there is little concrete information about current working conditions there, though one factory that produced Ivanka Trump shoes in 2014 is alleged to have long shifts and illegally low overtime pay rates. Were that to deter me from my purchase of Ivanka Trump heels, Macy’s suggested shoes at a similar price point, including ones made by Michael Kors, whose employees were dragged away and beaten for protesting poor working conditions in Chinese factories, and Nine West, whose parent group Jones Apparel has been accused of human trafficking In Jordanian sweatshops.
After researching these and other brands in similar price ranges, I took the plunge and pressed “purchase,” deciding I was willing to support Ivanka Trump’s business in the name of sturdy, reasonably priced heels with less ethically dubious origins. Apparently I am not alone: a recent survey from customer loyalty research consultancy Brand Keys found that 83% of millennial women are still positively disposed to Ivanka Trump, and 51% were still likely to keep her on their shopping lists. My shoes have since arrived — they’re comfortable and well-made, and I have few regrets.
I don’t focus much on the politics of my corporations, but I do try my best to make ethical purchases in the few ways I can. I avoid fast fashion stores and buy vintage as often as possible (in fact the dress I am wearing to the event was purchased secondhand). When I can afford it, I prefer to spend my money at companies like Rag & Bone, Everlane, and Reformation — which have well advertised documentation of humane working conditions in their factories and good quality clothing I won’t toss in two years.
Do I worry that putting money in Ivanka Trump’s pocket is almost an endorsement? Maybe. But until my budget can fit products higher up on an ethical scale, I will stick with a mid-priced line that’s comfortable, even if her father’s politics make me uncomfortable.
This article was originally published on Marketwatch.