Turkey is already known for its high quality nearshore manufacturing capabilities and its factories are used by retail giants such as Next, Inditex and H&M Group. In addition, the 2020 post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and Turkey offers favorable terms (box below).
Turkish suppliers now want to be recognized not only for their production, but also for their own brands. The Istanbul Fashion Connection (Ifco) expo, held August 24-26 at the 2.7-million-square-foot Istanbul Fair Center Yeşilköy — also known as the Istanbul Expo Center — aimed to promote Turkish brands created by manufacturers were developed.
The trade agreement between Great Britain and Turkey
On December 29, 2020, the United Kingdom, represented by then-International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, signed a free trade agreement with Turkey just days after finally agreeing on Christmas Eve the terms of trade of Brexit with the European Union.
The deal with Turkey ensures a duty-free flow of goods between the UK and Turkey, and the UK government said it would protect the two nations’ trading partnership, which was valued at £18.6 billion in 2019, the UK Department for Economic Affairs reported international trade.
Read more: Post-Brexit trade talks with Turkey
The first edition of Ifco, held at the same venue from February 9-11, 2022 and organized by the eponymous online platform that matches international buyers with Turkish brands, attracted 25,000 visitors. The second edition was 40% smaller – some of the 15,000 visitors pointed out that late August, at the end of the shopping season, is also a popular holiday time. The number of exhibitors has halved from 600 at the opening edition in February to 300.
At the opening ceremony on August 24, Turkey’s Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank said that the first edition of Ifco attracted 12,000 foreign visitors, signaling that “Istanbul has become the global meeting point of the world.” [the] fashion industry. The interest in this exhibition is just as great as in the first one.”
Varank cited the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Middle East and Gulf countries as Turkey’s largest apparel export markets. Proximity to Europe means retailers and brands can get orders in less time than locations like Bangladesh and China. Although delivery times depend on order volume and the complexity of the manufacturing process, Turkish suppliers who spoke to Drapers estimate average delivery times of between 45 and 60 days. In contrast, garment orders from Bangladesh can take anywhere from 90 to 120 days, a 2021 study by the country’s National Institute of Textile Engineering and Research found.
Cem Altan, board member of the IHKIB [Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association] and founder of jersey specialists Aycem Textiles, told Drapers that Turkish manufacturers investing in technology have further accelerated the manufacturing process: “Most suppliers [in Turkey] also have their own design team, investment in digitization has helped reduce travel, cost of producing samples and the ability to obtain permits online are additional benefits.”
Europe accounts for 65% of Turkey’s garment exports. The country’s biggest customer, Germany, bought $2.2bn (£1.87bn) in the first six months of 2022, followed by Spain with $1.6bn (£1.36bn) and the UK at $1.2bn (£1.02bn). Other major clients include the Netherlands at $1bn (£850m), France at $690m (£587m) and the US at $601m (£512m).
After exporting a record $21.2bn (£18bn) of clothing in 2021, Turkey is targeting $23bn (£19.6bn) in 2022 and $40bn ($34bn ) “in the medium term,” Varank told Ifco attendees.
“We have not the slightest doubt that thanks to the determination of our companies and fairs like Ifco, we will achieve our goals,” he said. “2,500-3,000 of [the 15,000] Visitors are qualified buyers – meaning they come here to buy and to sign deals.”
Garry Butterfield, head of product development and merchandising at Luton-based apparel and accessories retailer Great Branding, which owns licenses for football clubs including London’s Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as Spain’s Athletico Bilbao and Germany’s Bayern Munich, told Drapers : “I have found about six new suppliers that could really help us improve our production plan for Turkey,” he said, but added, “In some areas I felt that the current or latest trends were missing and not very responsive were geared towards the European market.
The exhibiting women’s fashion brand Papers Pleats has its own factory and was represented at Ifco by General Manager Soner Mutluer. In 1991, Mutluer’s father opened a garment factory in Istanbul, which is now used by Papers Pleats to make their signature pleated polyester skirts, trousers and shirts. Following the launch of the brand in May 2022, Mutluer traveled to the London trade fairs Scoop and Pure [at Olympia London on 17-19 July] to showcase the brand to UK buyers.
However, he prefers Ifco because of the more diverse international presence: “The visitors [to the Papers Pleats stand] were Spaniards, Russians, from Great Britain and Colombia. I have good customers in Italy, but people in Germany [Turkey’s biggest export market] are not very interested.”
However, a participant Drapers spoke to said some exhibitors are not able to disclose environmental and ethical certifications such as the BSCI [Business Social Compliance Initiative]SMETA [Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit] Audits of working conditions in the supply chain, GOTS [Global Organic Textile Standard] for the use of organic textiles in production or the Oeko-Tex certificate for harmless end products, which confirms that the textiles do not contain harmful amounts of toxic substances.
An Ifco spokesman said: “IHKIB [to which most Ifco exhibitors belonged] has around 16,000 members, most of whom have the appropriate sustainability and compliance certificates and programs. IHKIB members mainly export to Europe (62%) and the US (5%) and produce for global brands, so these member companies are already under the strict audit control of the brands they produce for.
“These member companies have at least one or two audits every month and it is impossible for them to continue working with these brands without sustainability and social certificates and conditions. IHKIB is working hard to support Ifco participants through sustainability programs, so this level will be higher in the next edition in February 2023.”
Ifco also said it would offer exhibitors training to “help them run the show more efficiently” after some attendees told Drapers they were having difficulty communicating with brands at the show.
Building on Turkey’s reputation for quality manufacturing, Ifco aims to promote the manufacturer’s in-house fashion brands. However, Ifco should improve its accessibility for foreign buyers by ensuring that exhibitors can communicate with participants, as well as making certification-related information more widely available to buyers. These moves could increase the opportunities for Turkish brands.