After the U.S. presidential election, Chinese companies took a sudden interest in Ivanka Trump. They flooded China's trademark office with applications for rights to stamp "Ivanka" on products from diet pills to sanitary pads. They even applied for similar spellings, including Evanka, Iwanka and Lvanka. Even before the start of Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, the influence of the first daughter was clear, even to business people halfway around the world.
Ivanka Trump's fashion brand has been busy on the China trademark front too, filing a ream of applications before the election. Her company has said that was a defensive move to protect it from companies wanting to cash in on her name in China. Normally, that would have been viewed simply as savvy business practice, but since the company in question belongs to the daughter of President Donald Trump, it also raised new questions about how the first family's business interests might stand to benefit from its dealings with foreign powers.
Case in point: Ivanka Trump's company was granted preliminary approval for three new Chinese trademarks for selling bags, spa treatments and jewelry on April 6, the same day she had dinner with China's president and first lady at Trump's personal Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, according to an Associated Press report. China's Foreign Ministry denied any preferential treatment, saying all brands are treated equally.
Ivanka Trump, an advisor to her father, has stepped down from running the company with her name on it, put the assets in a trust run by family members of her husband and no longer appears in its ads. But she still owns the company, which manufactures largely in China despite the president's policy to "Buy American, Hire American." The company's Chinese factories have been in the news lately too. A watchdog's audit of a factory used by the Ivanka Trump line and other brands found that some workers there earned just $62 for a 60-hour workweek, The Washington Post reported.
For a made-in-China brand, Trump's products aren't easy to find in retail there. There's a roundabout way to buy them, through Chinese shopping agents called daigou who buy her products in the U.S. and sell them online in China at a markup. They're not always great ambassadors for the brand. One typical daigou post sells Ivanka Trump shoes with amateurish snapshots of veiny feet wearing sling-backs.
While Trump's fashion line still has a low profile in China, her personal brand is growing there.
"She is received very positively in China," says Kim Leitzes, CEO of ParkLU, an influencer marketing platform in China. "She is beautiful, intelligent, rich and married to an equally-so husband," said Leitzes, a former classmate of Trump's at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "She is well-educated. She embodies a lot of what Chinese women want."
Kantar Media CIC combed through Chinese social comments about Trump for one week in January where she created some buzz. Besides the obvious big keywords like daughter, president and United States, smaller ones included "goddess," feminism, intellectual, success, beauty, princess. (One outlier was "SB," an abbreviation for a vulgar insult in Chinese.)
Trump's image in China has been boosted by the fact that her three children are learning Chinese. Arabella, her 5-year-old, sang in Mandarin for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife at Mar-a-Lago, and video of that performance went viral in China. Trump's Instagram account seems full of soft power messages courting China. For the lunar new year, she posted a video of her daughter in Chinese traditional dress, singing a song of good wishes in Mandarin. Even a photo of her and her baby playing with blocks bore a subtle message; Chinese internet users noted that the blocks were stamped with Chinese characters.
Contributing: Chen Wu.