Turkey’s trade show organizers are bracing for choppy seas ahead as they sail into the storm of plunging exports.

This story first appeared in the May 20, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

After several years of exemplary business, growth has taken a nosedive since the beginning of the year due to the global recession. Turkey’s exports in April plummeted to $7.5 billion, almost 34 percent lower than the same month last year, according to the Turkish Exporters Assembly. Turkey’s exports in the first four months of the year totaled $28.5 million, while exports in the last 12 months fell 3.4 percent to $113.3 billion. Meanwhile, Turkish textile exports for the last 12 months reached $996 million, making it the second most important industry in Turkey behind the automotive industry.

The downturn has accelerated since October, when export figures first started to decline. Until then, Turkish exports had shown robust strength, rising for the year 29 percent to $132.4 billion.

This year, Turkish officials say it would be a “great success” if Turkish exports reach $100 billion, suggesting that a stark decline is in store for the bulk of Turkish businesses.

For the Turkish textile and apparel business, the bad news is not easy to digest. Already the sector has been under pressure from cheaper manufacturing in India and China.

As a response, Turkey has concentrated on providing international clients with added value.

Brand building has been a priority, though those efforts have been slow to bear fruit. And manufacturers have concentrated on improving quality and providing faster service. Many believe they can only compete if they react to fashion trends and supply European fast-fashion players more quickly than their competition in the Far East.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s ITKIB, a government-

sponsored association of more than 17,000 members in the textile and apparel trades, has been increasing its efforts to sharpen Turkish players’ global competitiveness.

“In these times of global financial crisis, one of our main concerns is to focus on new potential markets for our members,” said Akif Yurtcan, general secretary of ITKIB. “A specialized team of professionals is researching and making financial, social and industrial analysis on potential new markets.”

Turan said ITKIB also is rallying Turkish companies to participate in international apparel, fabric and textile and leather trade fairs.

“Design is seen as one of the most important elements of the Turkish apparel and textile sector,” said Yurtcan. “In this context, ITKIB is supporting Turkish designers by all possible means.”

The will to cultivate more talent in order to nourish its industry at home has led to the founding of the so-called Fashion and Clustering project. It includes the recent creation of the Istanbul Fashion Academy.

“Through its educational and training activities, the academy is providing great opportunities to the Turkish textile and apparel industry. In relation to those efforts, design contests in the related sectors are also organized by ITKIB in the search for young, talented and promising designers,” said Yurtcan.

Research and development also has received attention through the founding of the Istanbul Textile and Apparel Research and Development Center. “It is meant to provide research and development and supply the innovative product development process to the Turkish textile and apparel sector,” said Yurtcan.

Upcoming fashion and apparel trade shows in Turkey include the Istanbul Leather Fair, running May 31 to June 2, and the International Istanbul Fashion Fair, Aug. 23 to 25. Tuyap, which runs the Leather Fair, said some 300 exhibitors are expected.