When the Business of Fashion reported on Monday that Ivanka Trump dresses were “secretly relabeled” with the Adrienne Vittadini brand name, some shoppers were unhappy. They felt duped by the Trump brand — licensed by the company G-III Apparel, which owns to right to manufacture and distribute the clothing — as well as by Stein Mart, the discount retailer that sold the garments.
Shannon Coulter, founder of the “Grab Your Wallet” movement, tweeted at various G-III brands owned by or in licensing agreements with the company (there are more than 30, including Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, and Ellen Tracy), calling for them to take a stand against the misleading labeling practice.
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) April 26, 2017
.@VinceCamuto as another brand distrib. by G-III, does news about re-labeling Ivanka’s clothes make you concerned about your brand equity?
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) April 25, 2017
.@kensie_clothing as another brand distrib. by G-III, does news about re-labeling Ivanka’s clothes make you concerned re: your brand equity?
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) April 25, 2017
In a statement provided to Yahoo Style, G-III says it “accepts responsibility for resolving this issue, which occurred without the knowledge or consent of the Ivanka Trump organization. G-III has already begun to take corrective actions, including facilitating the immediate removal of any mistakenly labeled merchandise from its customer. The Ivanka Trump brand continues to grow and remains very strong.”
But “mistakenly labeled” implies that the clothes weren’t supposed to be stamped with a different label — when really, it’s just as possible that they were intentionally stamped with the Adrienne Vittadini name, according to experts familiar with the process.
To be fair, a lot of merchandise is outsourced to the same international facilities, according to Lauren Beitelspacher, assistant professor of marketing at Babson College in Massachusetts. Although she tells Yahoo Style that it’s “plausible” there was a legitimate mix-up, Beitelspacher suggests that there may be more to the story, given reports that, despite an alleged sales spike in February, Ivanka Brand may be in ‘crisis’ mode.
“While that stuff does happen, it’s an easy out for them,” she says. “It’s suspicious, considering the brand.”
Apparently, relabeling brands is something that happens more frequently than shoppers might realize, and is not unique to the Ivanka Trump brand. And it’s a story of licensing deals and supply chains — not politics.
Here’s how it works:
Ivanka Trump the person doesn’t actually have that much to do with Ivanka Trump the clothing line, as the rights to the latter are licensed out to G-III, a $2 billion-plus company that designs, distributes, and contracts the manufacturing process for its myriad brands.
Even more confusingly, G-III Apparel does not own the Adrienne Vittadini brand. Rather, a company called Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, does. ABG did not respond to requests for comment for this story, so it’s unclear exactly how this swap would have occurred.
The Ivanka Trump brand, meanwhile, declined to comment for this story.
Analysts say that G-III’s overall business hinges on the success of its licensing deals — which account for the majority of the company’s revenue at 64.1 percent, according to Bloomberg data. And according to industry insiders, licensing deals between apparel groups like G-III and ABG are actually common practice.
But because the details of the deal between G-III and ABG are unknown, says Steve Goldberg, president of retail consulting firm the Grayson Co., there’s no way to know exactly what the terms of a licensing deal were — though he thought there should have been one in place for this to have happened.
“You can’t just take a garment and take off an Ivanka Trump label and replace it with another without some sort of understanding,” Goldberg tells Yahoo Style. “There are guardrails for what you can and can’t sell under a licensing agreement, and typically, [the clothes] aren’t interchangeable in that way.”
He adds, “Any aberrations of a licensing agreement are going to be accompanied by an understanding, —it doesn’t matter if it’s for the Ivanka Trump brand [or not].”
Worth pointing out: This swapping of labels practice is legal, assuming all parties involved had an agreement, records were kept, and labels indicating what composes a garment are maintained, Susan Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute, told Business of Fashion.
But the fact that the Ivanka Trump clothes were labeled as Adrienne Vittadini could reflect the state of the retail industry today just as much as it does the perception of Ivanka Trump’s brand, despite reports that the it hasn’t sold well, Beitelspacher says. That is, the larger market itself has suffered from store closings and other cost-cutting measures to help mass market retailers combat the headwinds facing the industry.
Basically, clothes stocked in-store aren’t selling as much as originally expected by buyers, who place purchase orders based on how many clothes they think shoppers will buy. As a result, analysts expect G-III Apparel will also face decreased sales in 2017, caused in part by a chain reaction from weaker in-store traffic at the department stores G-III Apparel stocks.
When clothes don’t sell in the department stores they were first distributed to (Nordstrom or Macy’s), they then go to the discount or “off-price” stores, as Goldberg calls them (TJ Maxx or Stein Mart), and are marked down multiple times. Some inventory is distributed directly to those off-price retailers.
But it doesn’t bode well to see a rack of discounted Ivanka Trump or Calvin Klein merchandise at a Marshalls, especially when that brand is attempting to maintain a sense of prestige. (After all, Chanel wouldn’t be Chanel if you could get it at 50 percent off.)
Beitelspacher says that while most luxury brands have outlets, partnerships with off-price chains like TJ Maxx or Stein Mart are incredibly valuable to department stores and apparel groups, especially when it comes to maintaining a brand’s worth. What’s more, inventory moves seven times faster in off-price stores than it does in department stores, she says, offsetting losses that a slow sales season might have had on a brand.
Over the course of a buying season, the clothing may be relabeled by manufacturers when late-in-season orders need to be fulfilled — which, on its face, isn’t all that egregious, because the clothes themselves are not so distinct. A look at the various G-III brands reveals clothing that often appears remarkably similar. Take the three dresses shown above, for example, or this green Calvin Klein outfit and denim Ivanka Trump dress, below.
The two frocks are hardly distinguishable, both with similar “starburst” pleats and high necklines. G-III Apparel maintains that the Ivanka Trump line, as well as other lines within the company, have independent design teams, centralized within G-III. But the teams mostly follow the same trend reports — outlining seasonal variations in color, cut, and fabric — to target customers at the department stores that stock G-III brands. So a zipper might be visible or a hem shortened, but the designs themselves are not so unique.
If shoppers want to direct outrage toward the Ivanka Trump clothing brand, it probably shouldn’t be over a common-enough industry practice with which Trump herself had no part. Instead, maybe they should consider the fact that Trump, like her father, has yet to divest from her business, still raking in the cash her name affords — no matter the label.
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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.