ISTANBUL — With Turkey’s economy on the rebound after last year’s global slump, the fashion industry here is riding high.

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The economy grew 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 from a year earlier, faster than any other country except China in the G-20 group of the world’s major economies. The government says that growth probably accelerated to more than 10 percent in the first quarter of this year, and expects growth for the whole of 2010 to exceed its target of 3.5 percent.

Exports are driving the recovery, with apparel among the strongest performers. This is helped by the recovery in most European economies, even though concerns remain that the debt crisis in Greece and other European Union countries might stall the revival.

Still, overall exports in the first three months of this year were 7 percent higher than in 2009, at $26.2 billion, according to the government’s statistics agency.

Sales to the EU, which takes almost half of Turkey’s exports in general, increased 26.5 percent. Specifically, exports of apparel increased 16 percent to $1.85 billion in the quarter, making it the country’s third-biggest export earner after cars and machinery.

Volkan Atik, a member of the government-sponsored ITKIB association, which represents more than 17,000 companies in the textile and apparel industry, confirms the positive mood that has swept over the sector. Atik, who is also the owner of the AVVA brand, which operates 35 stores and exports to more than 50 countries, says that his sales to EU nations increased by 20 percent, while sales to the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Turkic republics of central Asia grew twice as fast.

“There is more optimism all around the world, and this has had a positive effect on sales,” said Atik. “There is an average increase of 30 percent, which takes us back to precrisis levels.”

Turkey continues to invest in brand building and expanding markets as it seeks to establish a distinct platform that will differentiate it from China and India, the two countries that dominate the cheap textile trade. As part of this drive, Turkey’s biggest and most glamorous city last year hosted Istanbul Fashion Week for the first time, exhibiting the works of local designers. This year, the show will expand to include foreign designers, Atik said. Participants have yet to be disclosed.

This year’s fashion week will be held Aug. 25 to 29, and it will coincide with a huge textile fair — Collection Premier Istanbul — which will host 300 brands, including 100 high-end foreign ones such as Burlington, Caramelo and Falke.

The fair is a joint project by ITKIB and the German fair organizer Igedo, and it will mark the first brand fair held in Turkey with the participation of foreign brands. CPI will be held Aug. 26 to 28. “Turkey is moving from price-based competition to design-based competition,” Atik said. “We have started to build special niche products with more added value. These events are intended to strengthen and showcase this.”

Buyers already have started to view Turkey as a market where new products and designs are created, according to Atik. Another event that highlights this dynamic is the Koza fashion competition, which spotlights the work of 24 young design talents and is attracting a growing number of entrants each year.

In terms of new markets, Turkey has built-in advantages of geography and history. It is rapidly becoming more influential in the various overlapping regions of which it is a natural part: the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

The idea of Istanbul as a regional hub is far from being a vague vision for the future: It’s a natural evolution that’s happening now. After helping to organize last year’s Fashionable Istanbul show, a three-day event in October that featured lines from Ferragamo and Vivienne Westwood, Maia Guarnaccia, vice president of IMG Fashion, enthused about the city’s potential to become a high-profile platform for Turkish designers, the kind of bridge between East and West that Turkey has always dreamed of being.

Yet Turkey’s ambitions are larger still, according to Atik: It wants to be a global fashion hub, not just a regional one. “Design has no nationality,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it is Italian or Turkish, it’s about being original. Turkey is now seen as a more confident country which produces original things, and this will set us apart and put us up at the forefront.”

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