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Turkey asserts its position as global fashion leader at IFCO

By Alicia Reyes Sarmiento


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IFCO, August 2023 Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento

Turkey's fashion industry has achieved a strong global position, ranking fifth in textile industry supply, and consolidating its position as as a key supplier to Europe, neck and neck with Bangladesh, beaten only by China.

Thanks to its strategic geographical location, solid infrastructure, competitive pricing, diversified production capacity, outstanding design talent, and ability to harness technology, Turkey has emerged as a major player on the global fashion stage.

FashionUnited witnessed this at the recent Istanbul Fashion Connection (IFCO), a leading textile trade fair that took place from August 9 to 11 in the Turkish capital. At the event, Turkey sent a strong message to the world: it aspires to become the global epicentre of fashion.

More than 30,000 trade visitors

Despite the severe earthquakes six months ago, considered Europe's worst natural disaster in a century, IFCO remains resilient, driven by the urgent need to strengthen the economy and reduce Turkey's high inflation.

The fair aimed to strengthen ties between Turkish producers and the 30,000 trade visitors attending from around the world, including a standout attendance from buyers from Latin American countries, which are major players in the global textile sector.

By the second day of the event, visitor numbers were more than 50 percent higher than the most recent autumn/winter season, the event organisers said.

Until now, Turkish fashion brands have been more in demand in markets such as Russia, North Africa, araand the Arab world. Now, however, they are determined to conquer a wide list of countries including the US, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, the UK, and South Korea.

IFCO, August 2023 Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento

IFCO has this year expanded its exhibition space at the now customary Expo Center venue on the outskirts of Istanbul to 20,000 square metres, which was organised in different pavilions to accommodate more than 400 exhibitors covering diverse segments such as womenswear, menswear, childrenswear, denim, leather and fur, sportswear, eveningwear, and lingerie.

In fact, the diversity and breadth of offerings presented was so broad that it was a challenge to choose which stand to explore, as garments with exquisite textures, meticulous finishes, and high quality fabrics - not to mention competitive price tags - were a constant temptation.

Images of Bubble label at IFCO Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento.

Tradition of contemporary aesthetics

Image of ‘The Core Istanbul’ at IFCO Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento.
Image of ‘The Core Istanbul’ at IFCO Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento

Brands in attendance included Alaii, Arzu Kaprol, Bist., Çiğdem Akın, Ece Erigi, Essin Baris, Emre Erdemoğlu, Ezgi Karayel, Eynaco, F.Ilik, Guaj London, Kuela, Meltem Özbek, Mert Erkan, Murat Aytulum, Mohair & Angora, Nej, Özlem Erkan, Selin Küçüköz, Shyz Wear, Tuba Ergin, Viola & Vesper, and Y Plus. The labels fused traditional craftsmanship with bold contemporary aesthetics, creating fashion that transcends borders and establishes itself as culturally significant.

Showroom of Meltem Özbek at IFCOCredits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento.

Meltem Özbek invited FashionUnited to enter his creative universe through a visit to his showroom in the heart of Istanbul. There, he presented his latest proposal for AW24, with a minimalist tendency. This approach, identified as one of the dominant trends of the coming season according to the seminar offered by WGSN experts, embraces minimalism with understated elegance and a profound attention to detail.

Showroom of Meltem Özbek at IFCO Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento

Strategic position, creativity, and quality at competitive prices

The Turkish fashion industry has thrived thanks to a unique combination of factors that have given it a strategic position on the global stage.

Its location between Europe and Asia provides unrivalled logistics for the worldwide distribution of products. This has been an essential component in optimising its well-established supply chain in Turkey. It has also boosted the versatility and adaptability of the industry.

Image of garments from the Napapijri, Timberland, and Vans brands produced by Gelisim Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento

Industry entrepreneurs explained to FashionUnited that the difficult economic situation in Turkey does not currently affect most of their businesses, as many of them only export their products, such as the menswear firms Raffaello or Gelisim. However, they are still affected by the cost of living crisis that is occurring across much of the world.

Purchasing managers, under pressure from low demand from their customers, are in turn putting pressure on Turkish companies: “They are looking to buy products at low cost and in small quantities,” said Dilek Gucluer, sales and marketing director at Gelisim.

Low prices without sacrificing the integrity of people and the planet

Sweatshirt with patches from international brands produced by Gelisim Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento

Much of the attractiveness of the Turkish fashion industry is based on its cost advantage over other markets. Its relatively low prices have attracted companies from around the world seeking to maximise efficiency and competitiveness without sacrificing product quality. This advantage has been a decisive factor in maintaining interest and investment in the sector.

But how is it possible to achieve affordable products without compromising ethical and environmental values? For Gucluer, the secret lies in internal control, saying that “quality starts with the raw materials”.

Opting for local production makes it possible to monitor every stage of the process, which is particularly relevant in the age of traceability. Unlike traditional complex and opaque supply chains that are intertwined between multiple companies and sometimes countries, this close proximity ensures precise traceability.

In addition, the transformation of these materials into garments favours renewable energy, obtained through solar panels installed in Anatolia. This initiative leads to a significant reduction in polluting emissions.

Focusing on design and training

At Gelism, they highlight the breadth and diversity of their teams, with specialists dedicated to the development of fabrics and full integration of 3D design in their processes.

Turkey's prominent position in the fashion industry is not only due to its production capacity and diversity in manufacturing, ranging from textiles to footwear and accessories, the human factor is also essential in this success.

Constant investment in advanced technology has been a key element in significantly improving the efficiency and quality of fashion production in Turkey. This commitment to innovation has kept the industry at the forefront of technological developments, ensuring that products meet the highest standards in terms of quality and design.

Mukadder Ozden, founder of Ozmoz and her husband holding a sample of their patented product 'Clean & Safe Babywear' Credits: FashionUnited // Alicia Reyes Sarmiento

Ozmoz, a company specialising in children's fashion, presents a product that stands out in the market: baby clothes developed with innovative technology that frees the process from chemical products.

The garments arrive sanitized to the end consumers through a process that guarantees safety for babies, eliminating the need for pre-washing, the company says. They are delivered in a sealed package with “food grade” standards. Northern European countries, such as Finland and the Netherlands, are showing great interest in the brand's products.

In China's shadow

China, an industrial and manufacturing powerhouse, has established itself as a leader in global fashion production. However, while often considered the epicentre of large-scale production, Turkey has perfected responsiveness and agility in production while maintaining good quality standards.

When we asked Raffaello's company spokesperson how industry professionals can justify higher prices than those in China, he points out that this distinction is ultimately understood through the opinions of their customers. The quality is evident from the first wash, he says.

To successfully compete in the global fashion industry, particularly against China, Turkey will need to capitalise on its distinctive advantages, such as its rich cultural heritage, craftsmanship, strategic geographic location, and design skills.

In addition, it will be essential to invest in technology, innovation, talent development, and marketing strategies to stand out and differentiate itself in a highly competitive market. A key factor, too, will remain the continued preservation of quality.

The Spanish market is not yet a target

Although targeting a diverse list of countries such as the US, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, the UK, South Korea, and others, the Spanish market doesn’t seem to currently be on Turkish retailers' radar.

This is due to reasons such as local competition, represented by giants such as Inditex, and customs difficulties that increase costs and complicate distribution. In spite of this, Turkey is entering the Spanish market thanks to big brands that trust in its production capacity and quality.

This article was originally written for FashionUnited.ES before being translated and edited to English