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How Turkish brands want to conquer Europe

By Ole Spötter

16 Sept 2022

Business |Background

Photo: FashionUnited

The Turkish fashion industry wants to make it big with its own brands and no longer just act as a clothing producer in the background. The trade fair Istanbul Fashion Connection (IFCO), which took place for the second time from 24th to 26th August, should aid in this endeavour.

So far, Turkish fashion brands have been more in demand in markets like Russia, North Africa and the Arab world. Now, however, the aim is to open up the West with Europe and North America, where Turkish fashion companies were previously active with their own designs and as manufacturers - but more in terms of the branding of other labels.

One of the driving forces behind achieving this goal is the Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporter Associations, which supports the new fair, but also other projects such as a fashion school and new brands. The textile association has 20,134 members. Membership is a prerequisite for local brands and manufacturers to export their products.

According to IFCO, the current edition of the fair attracted 15,493 visitors from more than 100 countries, including EU countries, the UK, the USA and the Middle East. Of these, 2500 to 3000 were buyers.

“Turkish brands are changing their image”

Currently, Turkish brands tend to target markets such as Russia, the domestic market and the Middle East. However, they are now eyeing the European market too, which accounts for 70 percent of Turkey's textile exports, according to Cem Altan, president of the International Apparel Federation (IAF). “Turkish brands are changing their image because fashion is going through a revival. They are trying to do more European designs than Eastern or Russian ones - younger, more modern, different.”

Articles at IFCO. Photo: FashionUnited

At the second edition of IFCO, however, this reorientation was not yet quite noticeable. Only a few of the 300 exhibitors stood out - the exceptions being some outerwear and occasion wear - that could find a place on the European market. These, however, were surrounded by classic garments, lots of real fur and overloaded kitsch. Names like Color Colucci and Narsace, which have similarities to already established brands, could cause confusion.

Fur was in demand at IFCO. Photo: FashionUnited
'Narsace' booth at IFCO. Photo: FashionUnited

One of the brands that could be successful with its products in Europe is Ar-ma, a casual menswear label. However, the Turkish brand has problems reaching and understanding the European market. Ar-ma sees especially Western and Northern Europe as “the most difficult market”, according to brand manager Berkay Melek, with the European northwest being particularly competitive. As a brand, Ar-ma is especially active in North Africa, the Balkan countries and the Middle East. 90 percent of its capacity is used for its own brand, with the remaining 10 percent allotted for manufacturing for other labels in France and Germany. In addition, the behaviour of the clientele is different from that in markets where the company is successful with its own brand. Nevertheless, Ar-ma wants to develop this new market for itself and is currently researching consumer behaviour.

Ar-ma at IFCO. Photo: FashionUnited

2,2 billion US dollars of garment exports to Germany

The Turkish garment industry exported garments worth 12.4 billion US dollars worldwide in the first six months of the year, according to figures from the Istanbul Garment Exporters Association show. Goods worth 7.7 billion US dollars alone went to the EU. Compared to the previous year, growth was 11.6 percent and 14.7 percent respectively. This year, the association expects an export volume of 23 billion US dollars. The goal is to double these exports.

“As IHKIB, we have increased our target after the pandemic. We want to increase our ready-made garment exports to 40 billion US dollars in the medium term,” said Mustafa Paşahan, vice chairman of IHKIB’s board of directors. The trade fair in particular will help achieve this goal, said Paşahan.

To promote exports, Istanbul Fashion Connection also offers seminars and lectures on sustainability, trends as well as export-related topics such as entering the international fashion market.

Germany ranks first in exports of Turkish apparel industry, ahead of Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, France and the US. In 2020, 3.1 billion US dollars worth of apparel was exported from Turkey to Germany. In the following year, it was 3.5 billion US dollars - an increase of 13 percent. In the first six months of the current year, exports are already at 2.2 billion US dollars.

Five brands for Europe und Gen Next

However, the Turkish fashion association does not only want to be more strongly represented with its existing brands in western countries, but also wants to establish new ones. The official goal is to establish five new brands that will become the international shooting stars of the Turkish garment industry.

Accordingly, Istanbul Moda Akademisi (IMA) was founded in 2007 to promote own brands while still in their infancy. The fashion school was founded by the association with the help of the “Instrument for Pre-Accession Funds I”, an EU funding project for EU candidate countries.

IMA student creations. Photo: FashionUnited

In addition to fashion design, students can also study fashion management, fashion technology and product development as well as fashion communication and media at the academy. There are also some additional courses such as styling, modelling and fashion journalism.

About three out of 20 graduates of the IMA's design course start their own label, the rest apply for jobs in the fashion industry.

Particularly outstanding talents are then sponsored by the association and sent to London to study at the London College of Fashion. As part of the New Gen programme, the designers return to Istanbul and show their collections at the ‘New Gen by IMA’ show during Istanbul Fashion Week.

Video: IMA via YouTube

In order to introduce the industry to up-and-coming designers and to bring them together with the fashion school, the IMA is also represented with its own stand at IFCO. In addition to information about training, there is also an IMA-curated trend zone at the fair. This time, the area has been divided according to the four themes “Filter Reality”, “Unity”, “Belle Epoque” and “Metaheuristic”. The inspiring colours, shapes and materials not only delighted visitors, but also attracted exhibitors from their stands.

IMA trend forum at IFCO. Photos: FashionUnited
IMA trend forum at IFCO. Photos: FashionUnited

IFCO’s plans for February 2023

For the next edition of IFCO in February 2023, the organisers expect more than 600 exhibitors, as was the case during the first edition. The February edition will be larger than the current summer edition because of the seasonal fluctuation - due to products such as jackets that bring in more sales - with half the exhibitors and a significantly smaller presentation area.

In addition, lingerie and bridal and evening wear will also be shown in February and will be presented in a separate hall. This sector is presented seasonally only once a year in Turkey. From February 2023, there will also be an additional hall for sourcing.

The IFCO organisers invited FashionUnited to the fair.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.

Turkish fashion