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Sourcing fair Texhibition aims to put Istanbul in the global spotlight

By Jule Scott


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Image: Texhibition in Istanbul | Credit: FashionUnited

Can the Turkish textile industry become the focal point of the European textile market? If the organisers of the Texhibition Istanbul Fabric and Textile Accessories Fair have their way, the sourcing fair and thus the country's textile production is to move further into the global spotlight.

Just two weeks prior to the event, which took place in Istanbul at the beginning of March, it was unclear whether the fair would go forward following the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in early February. There were discussions to call off the event, but after consulting the companies affected by the disaster, the fair ultimately went ahead - and without a single cancellation, said Fatih Bilici, president of the Texhibition Committee and vice president of the Istanbul Textile Exporters Association İTHİB.

In the end, the fair's three halls covered over 30,000 square metres at the Istanbul Expo Center, with 437 producers exhibiting knitwear, woven goods, denim, yarns, prints and accessories - a record for the fair's third instalment. With 18,525 visitors, the fair also set a record with 50 percent more participants than at its inaugural show a year ago. Nevertheless, the number of visitors was lower than the 25,000 that had been expected.

According to the organisers, international visitors from 104 different countries attended Texhibition. Among them were buyers invited to visit from the EU, UK, US, Middle East, and North Africa. However, both the exhibiting producers and visitors were mainly from Turkey. While roughly 45 percent of visitors at Istanbul Fashion Connection (IFCO) came from abroad, they only accounted for around 10 percent of the people at Texhibition. In the future, the aim is to change that, and the endeavour to internationalise the sourcing fair is not only the organisers' dream but also appeals to the exhibitors, as the Turkish textile industry's primary focus is export.

Ambitious export targets despite the current crisis

Not only Texhibition, but the entire Turkish textile industry has high ambitions. In 2022, the industry achieved a record result of about 13 billion US dollars (12.05 billion euros). Despite high inflation, upcoming elections and the catastrophic effects of the earthquake in the southeast, that number is expected to increase to 15 billion US dollars (13.93 billion euros) in 2023.

To what extent the goals of the second-largest European textile exporter are realistic remains to be seen. Twenty-eight percent of the export volume and thus about 3.1 billion US dollars (2.88 billion euros) are attributed to producers in the earthquake regions, but Turkey has put up a resilient and hopeful front. Going forward, the country aims to account for 20 percent of the EU's textile imports, according to a Texhibition's closing report, in which Ahmet Öksüz also expressed confidence. "We will increase our production in a concentrated way and boost exports with even greater motivation," says the chairman of İTHİB and Kipaş Holding, which includes the denim producer of the same name. "With the Texhibition Istanbul Exhibition, we are helping to heal the wounds left by the earthquake. We stand together as a country to strengthen and add value to the Turkish textile industry."

Image: İTHİB-Chairman Ahmet Öksüz | Credit: Texhibition

Turkey’s textile industry stands united and shares a vision for the future

The solidarity of the country, and its textile industry, is also evident in conversations with exhibitors. The earthquake particularly hit weaving and spinning mills in the south, including the regions of Adana, Kahramanmaras, Gaziantep and Kayseri. Exhibitors from Istanbul and other locations in the country also spoke about psychological wounds left by the disaster. "We were incredibly lucky," said Hande Yildirim, sales executive of Adana-based denim specialist Bossa. The company is one of Turkey's largest denim manufacturers and supplies brands such as Diesel, G-Star and Inditex. "Our factory was not badly damaged, but we stopped production for a week to support our workers. In some cases, they or their families were hit much harder by the earthquake than their employers and are struggling with its effects."

"In this situation, we have to stick together like a family," emphasised Ahmet Ak, sales representative of Sasa, Turkey's largest yarn manufacturer. He spoke of aftershocks that continue to deprive survivors of sleep, but at Sasa, too, the factory is undamaged and production was not forced to stop. The factory was not damaged, he said, but some sensitive machines had to be readjusted and restarted. Overall, the company expects turnover to be between 10 to 20 percent lower as a result of the disaster, mainly because some raw materials cannot be delivered currently - even if the manufacturer's production is hardly affected.

One such supplier currently struggling to fulfil orders is cotton supplier Iskur, though that is a secondary issue. Thirty-two workers died in the catastrophic earthquake, as did the two children and wife of Iskur's managing director, Kadir Kurtul, who was in Istanbul at the time of the event. It is difficult to comprehend just how life is supposed to go on after a stroke of fate like this one, but the Iskur Group, like many companies in the Turkish textile industry, is trying to look ahead.

Image: An overview of the fair | Credit: Texhibition

The earthquake destroyed 30 percent of Iskur’s warehouse, and about 70 percent of the yarn factory burnt down, said Leyli Rozyyeva, who is responsible for marketing for the company. Iskur also no longer has any stock, but production is already slowly restarting during the days of the fair. Between 40 to 45 percent of production has been outsourced to factories of other manufacturers, who are more than willing to help during this difficult time. It could take another six months to a year before production is restored in the company's factories, Rozyyeva estimated. Iskur is fortunate, however, because customers show compassion. Some are even purchasing increased quantities to support the company financially.

"Prior to the earthquake there was competition, now producers share their factories and capacities," explained İTİB vice president Bilici. He confirmed that talks and agreements are taking place among the individual producers. After all, everyone in the industry knows each other. Orders are now to be passed on to functioning factories, as is the case for Iskur. "If we want to live on, we have to live together," Bilici said about the textile industry in Turkey.

‘Not as cheap as the Far East, but not as expensive as Europe’

Manufacturers provide plenty of arguments in favour of Istanbul as Europe's textile centre. The geographical advantage is arguably unbeatable as many clothing manufacturers are looking for ways to relocate parts of their production from Asia back to Europe. Alp Hamzagil, from the printing company Rabek Textil, summarised Turkey's strengths as a sourcing country: "We are not as cheap as the Far East, but not as expensive as Europe either. We can also deliver faster and cheaper than the competition."

A conversation with Ezgi Gürer, head of sales and marketing at lace producer Antik Dantel, illustrates just how fast the exhibitors work. "We work a lot with the Inditex Group and therefore have to be fast," says Gürer. "As soon as a sample fabric is requested from us, we send it out the same day." In addition to Antik Dantel's 17,000 or so existing designs, two to three new designs are added each week, a rhythm similar to that of fashion chains such as Zara and its weekly 'drops'.

What exactly Inditex's possible return to China means for Turkey and what effects it may have is something no one could or would say. Gürer admitted that Turkey benefited from the Covid-19-related supply shortages but also stressed that most companies have since been more careful to reduce risks and hedge their bets - with suppliers in Turkey, China or other sourcing countries.

Image: Visitors at Texhibition | Credit: Texhibition

Flexible logistics, shorter delivery times and transport routes are powerful arguments for working with Turkey's textile exporters, but quality and reliability also play a major role. However, at least according to İTİB vice president Fatih Bilici, domestic companies are not hoping for customers from the luxury sector. The European fast-fashion industry is the main focus. Nevertheless, the country is still too expensive for the production of basics and cannot keep up with the prices of other non-European countries.

"We are currently 10 to 15 percent more expensive than comparable competitors from China, but our quality is compelling," says Yücel Ikiler, export manager of the artificial leather company Hefa. In terms of price, Turkish producers are competitive, but not unbeatable. On the other hand, the country has an entirely different, and for some companies, crucial advantage, as Turkey is increasingly opting for sustainable production - not least to meet the demands of its customers.

Inditex, Mango and the European Green Deal drive sustainability

Sustainability is key at most of the stands at Texhibition. Some proudly advertise their certifications, while others speak of the use of renewable energy - especially solar panels - on the roofs of their factories. The sustainable efforts are mostly due to the increasing demands from Europe - especially from the fast-fashion companies that are so important for Turkey, such as Mango or the Inditex Group. Partnering with Inditex is the next objective for textile producer Migiboy, but there is currently no way, according to export manager Elif Begen. The factory is coal-fired, a dealbreaker for Inditex, she explains.

The focus on exports, especially to Europe, also means that manufacturers increasingly have to adapt to the European Union's Circular Economy Action Plans requirements. If they fail to meet these, they will miss out on a lucrative market and a considerable part of their turnover. According to Texhibition's final report, the industry's major objectives at present are the reduction of water consumption, increasing the efficiency of renewable energy sources, a more sustainable organisation of supply chains, zero-waste in production and a circular economy. A separate certificate called 'GMO-Free Turkish Cotton' has also been in place for a few months to promote and better market organic cotton cultivation in Turkey. It identifies cotton without any genetic manipulation.

According to Bilici, all companies present at the Texhibition are ready for the sustainable requirements of the European fashion industry. Nevertheless, some companies argue that sustainability is taking a back seat as most buyers focus on pricing.

High expectations and ambitious goals

The exhibitors' feedback is predominantly positive, the potential of the fair and its necessity for the Turkish textile sector is emphasised again and again, but there are occasional suggestions for improvement. Firstly, there is the timing, as the fair marks the end of the trade fair calendar. Most buyers - as well as most exhibitors - have already visited the big international fairs such as Premier Vision in Paris or Munich Fabric Start in Munich. Istanbul is now the last stop for all those who are still missing something for the production of their Spring/Summer 2024 collections, says Günsel Güngor of BTD Textile, a textile manufacturer. In Istanbul, visitors are looking for complementary items, but most have already placed their orders, says Güngör.

Image: Texhibition in Istanbul | Credit: Texhibition

According to Hamzagil, the fair is for those who want to get acquainted with almost all Turkish suppliers in one place. Timing, however, is a problem for Europe. "For most companies, sourcing has already been completed. They are already preparing their collections." Nevertheless, he sees potential for the trade fair but emphasises room for improvement. The industry as a whole lacks some courage, according to Hamzagil. Only Zara's parent company Inditex, a frequent topic at the sourcing fair, still makes bold choices.

Texhibition organisers now want to take on Paris-based trade show Premiere Vision, which organised a fair in Istanbul from 2014 to 2018, because in the long term Texhibition should not be "just" one of many textile fairs. "We have noticed a great deal of interest from the industry. Texhibition has established itself as an international hub for efficient sourcing," said vice president Fatih Bilici in the fair's final report. "More innovations are being planned for the next edition in September 2023. The focus is on healthy growth." In a personal conversation at the fair, Bilic was even more direct, saying that fashion and, therefore, textiles belong to Istanbul. He also underlined the future goal of the fair: "Number one internationally, not only in Istanbul."

FashionUnited was invited to visit Texhibition in Istanbul by its organisers.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.DE before being translated and edited to English