By  on May 23, 2007

ISTANBUL — After a period riven by rivalry, Turkey's fashion trade fair calendar has finally settled into a twice-yearly rhythm of one main show at the CNR Expo exhibition space in Istanbul. But upheaval and controversy are never far from the surface.

The fuss this season arose over the March arrest of CNR head Ceyda Erem on allegations of financial irregularities. Erem has been released and the case, which has unsettled exhibitors, has gone to court. CNR organizers said they do not want to issue a statement until the legal process is over.

While protesting Ms. Erem's innocence in general, CNR also offered reassurances that neither August's Istanbul International Fashion Fair nor its successors for years to come would be affected.

"We have a very long-term rental agreement with the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce for the exhibition halls, and we are continuing to host exhibitions as usual," said international marketing supervisor Gul Orundas.

The Aug. 23 to 25 show is only the second since the IF council of fashion trade bodies decided to end a damaging trade fair rivalry by publicly abandoning the established TUYAP trade fair venue and taking the show to CNR. CNR had launched its own alternative fair, backed by the powerful Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters' Association, or ITKIB, as a challenge to TUYAP, which ITKIB had criticized for "lacking vision." The split angered exhibitors, who blamed it on personality clashes and infighting rather than any grand plans on either side.

The first edition of the relocated IIFF drew 27,452 visitors to the halls showcasing 288 exhibitors from all categories, including women's and men's wear, denim, lingerie, swimwear, children's wear, accessories and knitwear. The Istanbul Moda Show, which CNR ran prior to bagging the IIFF contract, was glitzier but lacked the category range to make it a comprehensive Istanbul fashion show.

The second IIFF at CNR, the 10th edition of the fair organized by the IF council, will boast the official support of the "Turquality" campaign — a mark of recognition and campaign of incentives granted by the Turkish state to brands deemed to add value to the Made in Turkey name. Exhibition organizers hope this will lead to greater participation in the show by established Turkish brands, compared with last time, when they were few and far between."We have added a hall for Turquality companies," said Orundas. "If firms get Turquality incentives, they can get incentives to take part in the fair."

Turquality includes brands such as the fast-fashion label Koton, which was at the show last year; expanding women's wear label Network, and the international denim label Mavi Jeans.

However, it remains to be seen whether the top Turkish labels will be lining up to join a trade show that many of them say has not delivered in terms of prestige and custom. In the past, experienced trade show exhibitors and buyers have complained that the season on display is wrong, as Turkish labels worried about lagging a season behind shows in other countries.

"We did not find that there were many brands like us at the last show and we have no plans to take part again," said an official at Koton who declined to be identified. "We do not go to sell individual items but to negotiate franchises and shows. With that in mind, we were not very impressed by the visitors and we did not find the kind of platform we were after."

Mavi as a rule prefers to exhibit at shows such as Bread & Butter Barcelona, rather than in Turkey, and the trend for big-name Turkish labels over the past few shows — the TUYAP shows included — has been to stay away in favor of direct contact with prospective clients and department stores interested in their wares.

Orundas said, however, that new trade agreements with some European countries and Egypt have helped boost interest among international brands. "There is also sizeable international exhibitor interest," she said. "Many brands from Europe and the Middle East will be exhibiting this time round."

The advertising budget has risen to $135,000 from $111,000, with a campaign already under way nationally and through international public relations companies.

Defeated TUYAP organizers have not been idle. Postponing plans to continue with an independent fashion fair, they have set up Turkey's first dedicated leather and fur fair, capitalizing on the growing sector for fashioning animal skins for the tourist industry and, increasingly, international labels. The first show, in December, drew more than 10,000 visitors, with international interest coming mainly from Russia — a big client of Turkish fashion.The next fair, to be held May 31 to June 2, will be followed by another winter edition before the year is out, Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.

The Turkish leather sector also is expanding overseas, with an ITKIB-backed leather fair in New York, launched in January. The next edition likely will be in February, but a date has not yet been set. This fair will supplement ITKIB's already-established Turkish Fashion Fabric exhibitions in New York (July 17 to 18), Milan (Sept. 12 to 14) and London (Oct. 2 to 3).

Other Turkish fashion bodies also have been trying to make inroads into the international scene by hosting their own shows abroad. Denim producers' association Denimder has embarked on a project for international denim exhibitions in Moscow June 6 to 8, showcasing the growing number of Turkish denim labels.

But, while the Turkish fashion sector embarks on ambitious plans, it is struggling with the forced changes brought about by the emergence of China and India as big players in the low-end mass market production sector, where Turkey once had a dominant role. The extension until next year of some quotas on China has helped shore up the industry, but high employment taxes, a weak dollar and high energy prices continue to be primary causes for complaint in a nation fighting to add value and emerge as a fashion design center rather than a simple manufacturing base.

Predictions of doom and gloom so far have been confounded, with the textile and apparel sector scoring exports of $13.99 billion last year, compared with $13.69 billion in 2005. Even this modest rise is better than the anticipated shrinkage, but it does hide a story of firms going under while the survivors manage to increase unit prices. Textiles and ready-to-wear also have lost their top exporters' spots to the automotive industry, with little prospect of getting it back.

As far as trade fairs are concerned, the now-regular complaints about terrible conditions have not reflected on the number of exhibitors wanting to take part, exhibition organizers said. But the events surrounding the trial of CNR's Erem might have an impact after all, according to Oguz Yalcin, ceo of fair organizer Meridyen Fuarcilik."The incident has made companies taking part in international fairs quite nervous, so we could be faced with the issue of them deciding to stay away from international fairs for a while," Yalcin told the economic newspaper Dunya. "The sector has started to be negatively affected by something that a company with just 1 percent share in international exhibition activities may have done. This is bad news."

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