Donald Trump has taken some grief for the fact that his signature neckties are made in China. But the scope of Trump-branded products made outside America is larger than has previously been reported — especially when that includes the clothing line named after Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, which is listed on the Trump Organization website as part of the Trump empire.
Thousands of items with the Trump name on them — furniture, shirts, shoes, salad bowls, even “Trump body soap,” and much of Ivanka’s growing jewelry and clothing line — have been made by companies, often paying Trump simply for the use of his name on their goods, that employ foreign workers.
These Trump company business decisions are directly at odds with the central message of his presidential campaign: a promise to bring back jobs that have been sent abroad.
“I am going to bring jobs back to the United States like nobody else can,” Trump said in his closing statement at last week’s debate in Detroit, ahead of the Republican primary in Michigan on Tuesday.
“I’m going to bring jobs back from China. I’m going to bring jobs back from Mexico and from Japan,” Trump said during the Feb. 13 GOP debate in South Carolina.
In Detroit, Trump admitted he had his clothing line manufactured in China and Mexico. But he claimed that it is “impossible for clothing makers in this country to do clothing in this country.” Trump blamed the Chinese government’s devaluation of the yuan, which helps to make Chinese-made goods cheaper for American consumers than those made in the U.S.
Though many clothing, footwear and home goods companies make their goods in the United States — and there’s even been a small upsurge in higher-priced specialty brands locating manufacturing in Los Angeles, the current center of American garment manufacturing — the U.S. textile and apparel industry has been decimated since the 1990s, thanks to a combination of global trade deals and the North American Free Trade Agreement. The industry lost more than 900,000 jobs between 1994 and 2005, and even when companies do want to locate textile industry jobs in America, it can be hard to find skilled garment workers.
Manufacturing outside the U.S. may be good business for a billionaire like Trump. But in the political arena — where campaigns go to absurd lengths to secure and sell only made-in-America goods and drive only made-in-America cars — Trump’s business deals stand out for being as impolitic as his speech.
It turns out that a huge array of Trump brand products are made in Asia or South America, countries where — as he told CNN this past summer — “the laborers are paid a lot less, and the standards are worse when it comes to the environment and health care and worker safety.”
Trump, like most celebrities who monetize their fame, does not always manage the day-to-day operations of the companies that make goods with his name on them, instead making licensing deals and receiving payments simply for the use of his name as a brand. It’s the same approach he has taken to real estate: There are 17 properties in Manhattan with the Trump name on them, but Trump owns only five of the buildings.
Nonetheless, public data collected by a private company, ImportGenius, which gathers export and import information, shows Trump products outsourcing jobs back to 2006. And the trend has intensified over the past few years. Since 2011, around 1,200 shipments of goods with the Trump name on them have come to the U.S. from other countries. Our Principles PAC, a super-PAC opposing Trump, compiled the data from ImportGenius into an Excel spreadsheet with 1,356 shipments going back to 2006.
And this is a conservative estimate, since the ImportGenius data compiled by Our Principles only listed items that included Trump’s name on the “bill of lading,” a certificate issued by carriers to ensure that exporters receive payment and importers get the goods they’ve paid for. Sometimes, product marks or labels are not included in shipping records.
A large portion of the increase in outsourcing has come from the Ivanka Trump clothing line. The Trump outsourcing data includes shipments received as recently as last month. In fact, there were 50 shipments in February, almost all of them of women’s clothes and shoes for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line.
Trump is seeking to win the White House by appealing to resentment among working class voters in parts of the country that have been hurt by outsourcing. But he has not always been a critic of the practice.
“We hear terrible things about outsourcing jobs — how sending work outside of our companies is contributing to the demise of American businesses. But in this instance I have to take the unpopular stance that it is not always a terrible thing,” Trump wrote in a Trump University blog item in 2005.
The Economic Policy Institute, a D.C. think-tank affiliated with organized labor, estimated in 2014 that, since 2001, Chinese workers had taken more than 3 million jobs from Americans. Those in favor of free trade argue that commerce between countries ultimately increases economic growth and helps lift the country as a whole, but few dispute that free trade has also negatively impacted parts of the country that relied heavily on manufacturing jobs.
And while Trump has also railed against immigrants taking jobs in the U.S. from American workers, there are some inconsistencies in his own record on that count as well. His Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, hired only 14 American workers out of 300 who applied, and instead employed hundreds of foreign-born workers for seasonal jobs.