By  on September 15, 2009

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s nascent fashion industry has found something to celebrate during the economic downturn: the launch of Istanbul Fashion Days, the country’s first fashion week.

The organizers’ goal for the $1.5 million event, which featured 18 runway shows in a four-day run ending Aug. 29, is for it to eventually hold a place among the world’s major fashion happenings.

With high-quality cotton and low labor costs, Turkey has long been a production hub for some of the best known brands, from Marks & Spencer to Gap. Technological advances in fabrics and competition from Southeast Asia have pushed manufacturers to begin developing their own brands, starting with casualwear, including names such as Mavi and Koton.

“We were already very strong in terms of production,” said Ismail Kutlu, head of Gizia and a board member of ITKIB, the body representing Turkish textile manufacturers and designers. “We have been producing good quality products at European standards for years. Now our goal is to manufacture high-value-added products and to establish Turkish design on the world stage.”

Turkey’s manufacturing background is a boon for designers, he said, because companies are already well positioned to produce and deliver with fast turnaround.

Featured designers at Istanbul Fashion Days, which had estimated attendance of 10,000 people, included Arzu Kaprol, Bahar Korcan, Hakan Yildirim, Gamze Saraçoglu, Idil Tarzi and Mehtap Elaidi. A highlight was the debut of Pierre Cardin Weekend, a youthful leisurewear collection designed and produced by Turkish company Aydinli. If successful, the collection could be exported to 60 countries that Pierre Cardin is sold in worldwide.

Buyers at the event represented, among others, Galeries Lafayette, Bloomingdale’s Dubai, Franck & Fils and Art of Kohl.

“Turkey has a lot of potential,” said Odile Baudelaire, a Paris-based agent who advises buyers atstores such as Nordstrom in the U.S. and Myer in Australia. “Most importantly, they have good production facilities, which drives costs down. If they can improve the designs, they will be a strong market.”

Baudelaire cited the success of 25-year-old designer Asli Filinta for joining Turkish tradition with global fashion awareness.

“She combines a strong Turkish identity, like using mosaic prints from the Grand Bazaar on T-shirt sleeves, for instance,” Baudelaire said. “But she also has a showroom in New York, so she has that exposure to the world. Turkish designers have a lot of potential, but they need to travel more.”

Leading Turkish vendors at the show said there was little or no order taking.

“Unlike Italy, where there was a tradition of craftsmanship that fed into fashion as it was industrializing, Turkey doesn’t have a design history,” said Paris-based Turkish accessories designer Emel Kurhan. “There are excellent manufacturers, but they don’t come from a tradition of working with designers, which makes it hard to produce something genuinely original. It is going to be a learning process.”

ITKIB’s Kutlu pointed to the new Istanbul Fashion Academy as “a step in the right direction” toward training young designers. 

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