By  on November 23, 2005

Rival shows battle over the direction of Turkish trade fairs.

ISTANBUL — The gloves are off as two Istanbul fashion trade events go head-to-head in a February showdown amid allegations of underhanded dealings and cronyism.

Tüyap, which has hosted and helped organize the IF Istanbul fashion fair in August for the past five years, is organizing a second installment, scheduled for Feb. 9-11 at the Tüyap Fair, Convention and Congress Center, while rival fairs group CNR will put on its inaugural Istanbul Moda Show less than a week later, Feb. 16-18, at Istanbul's CNR Expo.

The competing fairs have been set up amid a clash over how to attract important foreign buyers and what one insider said was a "serious difference in vision."

The dispute became public after the powerful Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters' Association (ITKIB) withdrew its support for IF Istanbul in August, citing an irreconcilable difference in vision, and instead gave its backing for a new setup organized by CNR. At around the same time, the IF organizers announced that they were making the show a biannual event.

Choosing between the two shows has become something of a headache for exhibitors trying to juggle commitments and loyalties while keeping their costs low. The public nature of the dispute also has overshadowed the other trade events on the calender, such as the Istanbul Leather Fair (Jan. 19-21); Texgate (March 9-12), which showcases top textile firms such as Isko-Sanko; Istanbul Shoe Fair (Jan. 25-28), and ITKIB's biannual Turkish fashion fabric fairs in New York (Jan. 17-18) and London (Feb. 14-15).

Each side in the dispute accuses the other of bullying exhibitors into signing up for shows well in advance and favoring friendly exhibitors over what is best for the market.

"Eventually, the best [show] will remain standing," said Suleyman Orakcioglu, head of the Istanbul Ready-to-Wear and Apparel Exporter's Association (IHKIB), the largest group within ITKIB. He blamed the "bad intentions" of the IF organization for the current dispute, saying that it had refused to weigh the respective merits of CNR and Tüyap before deciding to stick with the Tüyap group, and scheduled its February show only after hearing that the Istanbul Moda Show was going to occur then, in an effort to stamp out the competition."We have been supporting the show at Tüyap for five years, but we saw that there was no improvement whatsoever in the fairs," Orakcioglu said. He added that IF Istanbul has consistently failed to attract all-important European and American buyers, and had not managed to lift itself out of a parochial mind-set. Even the nonstandard stands at IF Istanbul had a "third-world" air about them, he said.

"Seventy-four percent of our exports are to EU countries and 10 percent to the United States. That is, 84 percent of our exports are [going] to the most developed markets in the world," Orakcioglu said. "But at Tüyap, we did not have visitors from there. There wasn't enough publicity in these countries." Instead of business-minded buyers, Orakcioglu said, the event attracted families in search of a weekend diversion. "This can't be something the sector wants, can it? We tried very hard not to take sides, but in the end, we had to."

IF council chairman Cengiz Say disputed this reasoning and said the IF Istanbul fairs have been consistently successful. According to Say, the last edition of the show was publicized in more than 100 countries and drew more than 27,000 visitors from 67 nations. "Despite this success, why is there such naked ambition? Why is another fair being put on?" he asked.

Tüyap group sales executive Berkan Oner said brands that had pledged continued support for IF Istanbul were extremely satisfied with the show, and were even looking to add larger showcase stands as they established their presence there.

Although there were more than 40 buyers from Italy and 12 buyers from the U.S. at the last show, he said most of the visitors were from Greece, Bulgaria, Russia and Georgia, and some came from Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Iran. This, he emphasized, provides a good geographical range, in line with Turkish brands' desires.

ITKIB members don't agree, and believe that while IF Istanbul serves a purpose within the domestic market, it doesn't do enough to boost Istanbul's international standing. They said CNR, which has been organizing successful international fairs for years — its Hometex home textiles show purports to be the second biggest fair in the world — has the international infrastructure, offices and marketing strategy needed to provide such a boost to Istanbul's standing."Istanbul Moda will be very different, very selective and not to be compared with other domestic fairs," said a CNR spokesperson. "ITKIB does not lend its support lightly. All the big brands will be with us."

Currently, Istanbul Moda is advertising the support of brands such as Damat & Tween men's wear, which is owned by Orakcioglu's Orka Holding, Ipekyol and Koton, a trendy fast-fashion local brand, which took part in the Tüyap fair last August, but has now crossed to the Istanbul Moda camp.

Tüyap's Oner, however, said he anticipates little change in attendance from last August. "The main show of strength will be at Tüyap," he said.

An estimated 370 exhibitors are expected to fill around 150,694 square feet of space, compared with 170,069 square feet last August. Oner attributed the drop to seasonal differences. There will be more lingerie and less knitwear, he said, due to the unsuitability of the product for the summer 2007 season that will be on display.

Major Turkish knitwear body TRISAD, it should be noted, has left IF Istanbul to support Istanbul Moda.

While IF Istanbul organizers insist that they have enough loyal supporters to carry on and prosper, Istanbul Moda is in the midst of a major publicity campaign to attract new exhibitors and buyers.

Moda is boasting 1,614,586 square feet of available indoor space near Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, although it does not say how much is expected to be in use for the fair, and expects 350 Turkish and international brands. According to CNR, the new show will answer the needs of a sector that exported $13.1 billion worth of ready-to-wear last year and must change radically and ambitiously to hold off competition from China and its stronghold on the mass market production side of the industry.

"Istanbul Moda is not just a fair organization," said a CNR spokesperson. "It has been designed as an international fashion display with the aim of turning Istanbul into the fashion center of the 'new world.'"

The show that wins the war will not be able to rest, and must act fast and hard to lead a region that is increasingly becoming attractive for Western brands due to the growing spending power of its large population."What is just as important as putting the best of Turkish [apparel] on display is to attract brands from countries such as Italy and Germany," said Orakcioglu. "About 450 million people live within two hours' flight of Istanbul. It must become a meeting point. If we can't do this, it will be Lebanon or Dubai. We mustn't let that happen."

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