NEW YORK — In today’s textile business, many mills find they have two choices if they want to remain competitive: They can price their fabrics cheaply or find a technological breakthrough that makes them impervious to dirt, or wrinkles, or anything else that people prefer to keep off of their clothing.

At last week’s Turkish Fashion Fabric Exhibition, most of the 51 mills on hand showed they were clearly taking the latter approach to the competitive marketplace.

At Serdo Dokuma Kumas AS, officials said they’d recently obtained a license for the Nano-Care wrinkle-resistance and Nano-Pel water-resistance technologies developed by Burlington Industries Inc.’s Nano-Tex unit.

“They are able to add significant performance characteristics to fabrics without too much additional machinery,” said Sadik Alpher Burgun, sales and marketing manager with the Istanbul-based mill.

He said he’s found that many fabric buyers in his part of the world have already heard about the technology, which involves making changes at the molecular level in fabrics to impart properties that cannot be washed off garments. He said, “We think within a season, many more people will know about it.”

In the seven years his Bursa-based division of Maser Holding Inc. has been in operation, Burgun said it has developed a $45 million cotton-fabrics business in the U.S. He’s found, as have other Turkish executives, that it’s key to focus more on product performance than simply price.

“Price is an issue, but the customer has to be impressed with the product,” he said.

At Ipekis Mensucat TAS, also of Bursa, sales representative Osman Tuzcu said his company was also trying to focus on high-tech products as it tries to break into the U.S. market.

He took a swatch of blended wool, polyester and spandex fabric, balled it up in his fist, released and watched it unfold without showing a hint of wrinkling.

“You can’t do that with pure wool,” he said, admitting that with prices ranging from $5 to $15 per square meter of wool and wool-blended fabric, his company has learned how segmented the U.S. market is by price.

“Some are really looking for high quality, other companies are more interested in cost…and they can find lower prices in the Far East,” he said.Still, he believes demand for Ipekis’ tier of fabrics is strong enough in the U.S. that the company could eventually sell 15 to 20 percent of its 2.5 million square meters a year of output to this market. He said the company had already started doing business with some major U.S. specialty chains that have offices in Istanbul and was now exploring how to sell more directly to U.S. companies. He said the company had considered hiring a U.S. agent, but thought that “it’s better to make contact directly.”

For the year ended May 31, Turkey was the 18th-ranked supplier of foreign textiles and apparel to the U.S., shipping $1.75 billion worth of merchandise, up 22 percent from the prior year, according to U.S. government data. Of that total, only $147.9 million was bulk fabric — enough to make Turkey the 10th-ranked supplier of imported textiles to the U.S., an amount that illustrates that most apparel importers are ordering finished garments, not piece goods.

As Turkish textile firms have increased their trade with U.S. importers, they’ve also learned the importance of being able to ship goods anywhere, whether they’re being cut and sewn elsewhere in Turkey, somewhere in the Americas or in some third location.

“You have to evolve with the times,” said Michael J. Herzon, a longtime U.S. apparel industry executive who was recently named director of women’s wear for the Turkish woolens mill Yünsa and operates out of the firm’s New York office.

He said he’d been impressed by the flexibility of the company, adding, “We ship FOB anywhere, the system is very efficient…In America, we were locked into one market, the U.S.”

Yünsa is a $40 million division of the $4 billion Turkish conglomerate Holsa Inc. Turkey’s textile and apparel industry developed as a lower-cost supplier to Europe, playing a role roughly analogous to what Mexico and the nations of the Caribbean did for the U.S. over the past two decades. In pushing into the U.S. market, Turkish firms positioned themselves as having quality standards similar to European mills, but at lower prices.

That positioning has been boosted by the recent strengthening of the euro compared to the dollar, which makes European imports seem comparatively cheaper, Herzon noted.“The prices on everything in Europe are going up and we’re better positioned,” he said.

Still, in terms of pricing, most Turkish firms acknowledge they’re in no position to compete with Chinese suppliers from a cost perspective, which raises the question of how they’ll handle the end of quotas on textiles and apparel among World Trade Organization nations in 2005, which will leave Chinese exports unrestrained.

Burgun of Serdo said since many Turkish quota categories embargo each year, he’s confident there will be sufficient demand for Turkish products. He noted that at the show, which highlighted fall 2004 and winter 2005 product lines, companies were already writing orders for the post-quota environment.

“We’re already feeling the effects of quota coming off,” he said. “Many of the orders we’re getting aren’t new orders. They are ex-Far East orders.”

In terms of fashion, exhibitors continued to run with men’s wear-inspired looks, such as pinstripes, plaids and herringbones, as well as awning-like stripes and mini jacquard textures on wool and wool blends. Corduroy was another important element. For instance, Confetti showed prints on corduroy, layered paisleys or flowers atop tie-dye.

Ipekis showed flannels, double-faced cloths, tweeds and crepes on wool blended with silk, nylon, polyester or rayon. Ozbucak offered an array of men’s wear-inspired looks with a variety of textures, including mini diamonds, stripes and other abstract grounds.

Altinyildiz presented wool and cotton blends that were slightly rustic and coordinated with denim and heavier-weight cottons. Colors, according to Sami Arditti, director of marketing, sales and product development, were earthy with a focus on browns and rusts, as well as a “new interpretation of gray,” which he described as “smoky, yet with a hint of beige.”

Bossa, meanwhile, showed eight fashion groups, which included tweeds, flannels, dobbies and one called antique that featured a variety of checks.

“The last two seasons have been all about stripes,” said O. Can Yazkurt, export sales manager. “Now, checks are definitely coming back.”

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