ISTANBUL — Turkey, already the second-biggest leather producer in Europe, hopes to further boost its global market share with more high-end products.

That was a key takeaway at a summit last month organized by the Leather Promotion Group of Turkey, held at the Shangri-La Bosphorus hotel. The meeting brought together key players from across the Turkish and Italian leather industries.

“We are getting more competitive,” Lemi Tolunay, chairman of the Istanbul Leather and Leather Products Exporters’ Association and Turkish Leather Brands, asserted during an address.

He noted leather exports reached $3.5 billion in 2012 and are expected to be around $4 billion in 2013.
Leather production in Turkey was hit hard by the global financial crisis, and experienced a sharp decline in 2009. The following year, the industry rebounded strongly, and kept growing at a moderate rate.
Tolunay attributed some of the increase to European producers relocating plants after facing strict environmental standards instituted by the European Union.


“In Europe, especially in Spain and in Italy, several tanneries had to close down due to increasing costs. Some of them moved to close by countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey,” Tolunay said.

Despite the recent gains, Turkey’s share in the global leather industry stands at only 0.6 percent. The goal set for year 2023 — a centenary year for the Turkish republic — is $5.2 billion, which will boost Turkey’s global share to 1.5 percent.

Mehmet Buyukeksi, chairman of the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, warned that the 2023 goal could be realized only if Turkey invests in higher value-added products. “Our existing capacity cannot take us to the 2023 goal. We need to find ways to increase the value of our products,” he said.

Buyukeksi emphasized the importance of research and development, design, innovation and branding in order to increase the value per unit. Italian participants following Buyukeksi’s presentations conveyed examples from Italian experience relevant to his points.

Toni Scervino, chief executive officer of Ermanno Scervino, stressed the need to preserve traditional craftsmanship.

“To achieve the highest quality, we would like to oversee every step of our production. That’s why we prefer to have the entire process, from start to finish, in Italy,” he said.

Ferdinando Pastore, the director of the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade, or ICE, in Turkey, outlined its efforts to enhance the recognition of “Made in Italy” across countries. Through offices in 61 countries worldwide, ICE provides a range of services overseas helping Italian and foreign businesses to connect with each other. “After the economic crises, small and medium-sized companies started expanding outside the country borders and partnering with foreign companies as a survival method,” said Pastore.

ICE offices work to identify possible business partners and organize bilateral trade meetings, as well as forums and seminars with Italian experts with a budget of 30 million euros, or $40.8 million at current exchange, in Turkey, the seventh-largest importer from Italy. Three percent of ICE’s budget is allocated for the leather business.

Luca Boltri, chief of economic and institutional affairs at Lineapelle, noted that in 2012, annual trade between Turkey and Italy in the leather industry totaled 289 million euros, or $393 million, with exports of 178 million euros, or $242.1 million, from Italy to Turkey, and 111 million euros, or $150.9 million, in exports from Turkey to Italy. Lineapelle fairs welcome a growing number of exhibitors (almost three-quarters of tanneries) and visitors from Turkey.

Turkey’s strategic capacity in leather production, quality of leather produced and efforts toward promoting the “Made in Turkey” concept were the points repeatedly emphasized by the leaders of the country’s leather industry.

However, Burak Çelet, board member and general manager of Desa, one of the largest exporters of leather products in Turkey, found the country’s brand of leather products to be undeveloped. He said, “People still prefer foreign designers over Turkish designers.”

Among the 2023 goals, Turkey aims to have at least 10 Turkish leather brands among the leading global leather brands. To reach that goal, “we need to improve investments in human capital in the industry,” said Erdal Matras, chairman of the Leather Manufacturers Association of Turkey. “Until the last couple of years, we were able to purchase the latest machinery, but we did not invest at all in education or training. We ended up experiencing a large bout of brain drain. This has changed only recently.”

Hakan Yildirim, one of the top Turkish fashion designers, lamented that “at the early stages of my career, I did not have any support of the leather industry. Producers were not willing to provide the top quality material that they provide for foreign brands. Knowing Balenciaga bags were being produced in Turkey, but not being able to get my hands on the exact same quality leather, was upsetting.”

Özlem Koca, a younger fashion designer and the winner of last year’s leather fashion contest, was more upbeat. She said she finds the new investments in industry very helpful in her career. Koca said, “I got the chance to have my design produced and had the opportunity to attend a fashion school in Italy as the winner of the contest. This is indispensable for my career.”

Hatice Gökçe, another Turkish designer, agreed, adding, “Competition enables individuals to be creative. It is very different to be the creator of fashion than being a follower of fashion. We need to build more confidence in ourselves.

“Investment in ideas is essential. Designers should be able to create freely, without feeling the pressure to sell more,” she continued. “Only then can we become global brands.”