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Ivanka Trump on Working With Family and Breaking Into Fashion

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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

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Instead of kicking back and living off the success of her mogul father, Ivanka Trump chose to forge her own path. In addition to leading development and acquisitions for her family's real estate company, the 33-year-old entrepreneur also has her own line of clothing, jewelry, and shoes, a lifestyle site for professional women, and two young children. She's busy, to say the least.

Racked recently caught up with Trump to learn about why she got into the fashion game, what it's like working so closely with her family, and how she's learned to cope with being in the public eye.

What did you study in school? Did you always know you were interested in real estate?
I went to boarding school at Choate, and then Georgetown and Wharton [at the University of Pennsylvania]. I majored in real estate and finance and minored in history and art history. It was obvious to me that real estate was a major passion of mine and something that I was enthusiastic about at a very young age. I was determined to pursue ways to grow in that area, so that was my focus throughout college and with the jobs that I held afterwards.

Was there an expectation that you would join the family business?
My parents never pushed anything. They wanted us to work hard and instilled an incredible work ethic in us. They tried to ensure that we didn't have an entitlement to a certain lifestyle. Obviously we grew up very privileged, and it's easy to take for granted what you have. My father told me, "You cannot be successful at the top level if you're not deeply passionate about what you're doing." They wanted me to find my own way.



Photo: Getty Images


Is it hard working with your family?
I never want to assume we have it right, but I do feel very good about the relationship I have both personally and professionally with both my siblings that are in the business, Don and Eric, and my father. I find family businesses to be very binary. It's either amazing and people work great together and it's really addictive, or its a total disaster. Either people get along and it's great, or they hate one another. I feel very fortunate that my brothers and I love and respect one another. They are both so accomplished and smart and work very hard.

What boundaries do you set?
Part of it is just being respectful. Don't talk to your sibling in a way that would be a completely inappropriate way to talk to a colleague. Remembering when you're in an office environment to use a level of restraint is important because it's really easy to cross lines. Once someone feels disrespected, it's really hard to come back from that.

Why did you decide to start your own fashion company?
At a high level, my interest was a bit opportunistic. I looked around and saw that nobody was talking to that next generation of professional women in an authentic way. You look at some brands that create accessibly-priced clothing and accessories for this professional woman, and it's comical. The way they advertise to us is by using caricatures of what only a 70-year-old man could think a working woman is—the black pantsuit, the white button-down, the woman carrying the men's briefcase. We don't dress like that! There are these hilarious visual depictions of who this woman is and how she dresses and what she looks like.

How do you envision your customer?
The woman I'm dressing is young and in the early stages of her career. She's polished and professional and embraces her femininity. She is value-oriented, but she looks for great quality. She is also someone who's constantly multi-tasking. I have two young children and multiple businesses that I'm overseeing. I very infrequently have time to run home and change when I segue between the different roles that I play. Increasingly, women are wearing dresses. They want to be appropriate in a work context, but they also want to feel feminine, sexy, and beautiful. This idea of transitional dressing is a way to express yourself in a way that's appropriate across all settings.



Photo: Getty Images


The fashion world is notoriously hard to break into, but your line is quite successful. Are you ever worried that people assume your success comes from your family?
Early in my career I was more concerned about that. I think that's the nature of being young and insecure. I realized very quickly that that's something that I can never disprove, so I might as well not try. I have to focus on growing the Trump brand and the Trump business, and success is what dispels prejudices like that. I'm very cognizant of the fact that my last name afforded me tremendous opportunities and that I was exposed to people doing amazing things early in my life. I have no doubt that living in my house with my parents made me think bigger than I may have otherwise been naturally programmed to. That exposure is amazing and healthy. I can never say what I'd be like if I grew up in a different circumstance. With that said, I also know that I could have done a lot less.

How do you handle running a company while being very much in the public eye?
In the climate we live in today, you can't create a brand if it's inauthentic. It would be hard to fabricate the boy bands of a decade ago in today's environment because with social media and the constant connectivity, that kind of insincerity is quickly exposed. If I was pretending to work hard but was really a slacker, if I pretended to be driven professionally but really I'm sleeping until 3 p.m. because I was out at a club, that's not something that you can actually get away with anymore. For me, it's about living my life. I'm not fabricating at all. I'm living my life the way that I want to, and I'm building a brand that surrounds that. I'm a mother, I'm a wife, I'm an entrepreneur. I have many passions both professional and otherwise.

What's it like being a working mom?
On a basic level, all moms are working moms. I'm more exhausted on a Monday morning after a weekend with the kids than I am on a Friday afternoon after an intense week at the office. All women are working hard at their lives and whatever path that takes them down. By working in a professional capacity and having a family that is my top priority, there are obligations that I have and personal goals for myself. It's complicated, but that's part of the excitement. I'm in a unique part of my life where it's chaotic and it's amazing and I wouldn't want it any other way. Having children has made me incredibly focused and efficient in terms of how I spend my day and how I look at problems. I don't have a lot of time to spare. Every moment that I'm not being productive is a moment that a) I'm not being productive and b) I'm not with my children.



Photo: Getty Images


Do the real estate and fashion worlds ever collide?
In a lot of ways they do connect. They're both aesthetic fields, and both are an interesting combination of business, brand building, and style. Architecture and design are two industries that are incredibly competitive, and the people that succeed have a very strong point of view and a differentiated product. There are a lot of similarities when you're in the business of detail. Fashion is all caring about those details, whether it's fit or the actual style. Real estate is also all about detail: The difference between an incredibly executed luxury development and a poorly executed one is readily apparent.

Tell us a bit about your website.
We created my site, IvankaTrump.com, as a destination for the woman who works. Ultimately it's a brand site where I have many categories of apparel and accessories, and we'll launching e-commerce in the next year. But it's really an inclusive label. I find that so often, when people talk about the modern working woman, the conversation goes negative very quickly. I don't want to tell people how to live their life, I don't want to say, "Look like this," or, "Look like that." Our Women Who Work initiative is a celebration of the multifaceted nature of the working woman. I called on 13 of my friends who are building companies and are great entrepreneurs, and asked them to share what work looks like to them.

Are you interested in politics?
As a citizen, yes. As an individual, no. I obviously am interested in issues but I would not be interested in holding office. I love what I'm doing too much!

What's your best career advice?
One of the great things that you can do when you're young is experiment. It's a time in your life when there are a lot fewer restrictions. There's a lot less risk when you're not caring for a family. I always tell people to use time productively in your early twenties and late teens. As a boss, I love people who come from outside of the industry. They have a unique perspective and aren't used to the norm. Crossing over can be really great and eye-opening, and you can add a tremendous amount of value.