ISTANBUL — As Turkish manufacturers prepared for the upcoming Turkish Fashion Fabric Exhibition in New York this month, they said they were remaining focused on a niche of offering fabrics that can rival European mills in quality, yet carry price tags closer to what one would expect out of the Far East.

Over the past few decades, Turkey’s fabric and apparel exporters targeted primarily the nearby European market. But in more recent years, the enormous size of the U.S. has made it an increasingly attractive outlet to Turkish manufacturers who said they are seeking to boost their sales to the U.S.

“U.S. companies place big orders, and [the country has] important names that everyone wants to sell to,” explained Alper Yakuppur, export manager at Ugurteks Tekstil, an Istanbul-based mill that produces polyester, rayon, cotton and linen fabrics. On its own and through joint ventures, Ugurteks produces 17 million square meters of fabric annually, and exports about 90 percent of that. At 300,000 square meters a year, its sales to the U.S. market remain a small piece of its overall business.

Turkish makers said their business has been up and down in recent months. During the SARS outbreak, they contended, orders picked up as some U.S. importers looked for sources of supply outside the affected areas. However, the recent slide in the value of the dollar has cut into their margins, executives acknowledged.

The fourth edition of the show, which runs July 15-16 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, is sponsored by Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters’ Association, also known as ITKIB.

Around 57 manufacturers, the same number as last year, are expected to participate, primarily showing fabrics for the fall 2004-winter 2005 retail seasons. About 18 of the exhibitors are vertical operations that produce garments as well as textiles. Around 1,100 buyers are expected to attend, primarily from U.S. apparel importers and retailers.

“It’s a very focused show, designed for doing business, rather than for scouting among hundreds of choices,” said Ziya Sukun, executive director of the New York office of ITKIB Inc.

Sukun said while Far Eastern suppliers may be the cheapest option for U.S. buyers, Turkey’s fabric prices tend to run up to 20 percent lower than those of European countries because of lower labor costs. He added that Turkish manufacturers are investing in technology for speed and flexibility, for an increasingly demanding U.S. market.“We’re working on the ability to change on a monthly basis, with less time involved,” said Sukun.

Exhibitors preparing for the show said they aim to showcase their technological capabilities.

“We took part in two shows in the U.S. before,” said Feyza Ozeken, export manager with Bursa-based Ipekis Mensucat. “We have a couple of clients, but not much. We need to reach more clients there.”

Founded in 1925 in Bursa, east of Istanbul, Ipekis caters mostly to the women’s outerwear market, producing jackets, pants and coats, mostly in wool and wool blends. The company produces about 2.5 million square meters of fabric annually, and exports about half its production. The U.S. is not yet a major market for the company.

The Turkish textiles business has been robust during the recent period of global economic downturn, particularly as manufacturers and textile mills benefited from the effect of the SARS epidemic in the Far East, said exhibitors. But Ozeken, among others, admitted that orders suffered in the time immediately before and after the Iraq war, when clients put off visits and shows were canceled. Now, he said, expectations are for business to pick up.

Nesim Karakurt, marketing manager, Bahariye Mensucat, expressed hope for a general upturn.

“Things don’t look so bad in Turkey generally,” he said. “Maybe there’s been a bit of tightening after the war, but not much.”

Bahariye Mensucat, founded in 1951 in Istanbul, is one of Turkey’s oldest textile firms, producing mostly wool-blend fabrics, including polyester, silk or linen blends, as well as 100 percent wool. Targeting mainly men’s wear, it also caters to the women’s market.

“In the past few years we’ve focused on exports,” said Karakurt. “Generally, foreign buyers are most interested in our 100 percent wool products.”

Bahariye Mensucat has U.S. and Canadian clients and exported around 200,000 square meters of fabric to North America last year. That represented about 10 percent of its total exports, which leaves the company to conclude it has the potential to grow its American business. In an effort toward that goal, the company recently opened a second U.S. agency.Karakurt said his company has also studied American tastes and has tailored its fall 2004-winter 2005 collection to appeal to U.S. customers, with more checks, stripes and elaborate designs than fabrics usually shown to European customers.

Sonmez Tekstil, based in Bursa since 1975, has a production capacity of around 60 million square meters of fabric a year and employs 2,000 people in its textile business. The company also produces thread. Its output includes rayon, cotton, polyester, linen and nylon fabrics, with jacquard, tie-dye and embroidery treatments. Production is aimed at women’s wear, particularly blouses and dresses.

Last year, Sonmez sold $3 million in fabric to the U.S., about 10 percent of its export fabric sales.

“We need to increase market share and cultivate existing contacts,” said Yusuf Bozkurt, export marketing manager.

The recent slide in the value of the dollar has cut into margins for a business that quotes prices in dollars. The weakening dollar represents smaller profits in a market where margins are already low, said Bozkurt.

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