ISTANBUL — Eager to transform its image as merely a textile producer, Turkey is putting Istanbul at the center of its development efforts.

This story first appeared in the May 21, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul plays a leading role in transforming the capital into a regional hub and center for brand building. The most recent edition in March hosted 30 buyers from 14 countries, mainly from the Middle East, U.S., Europe and Asia.

“Buyers not only viewed catwalk shows, but also took time to resee and order pieces from the collections at Core Showroom located in IMA [Istanbul Moda Academy],” said Banu Bolen, director of fashion at organizer IMG. “We envision a fashion week that reflects a mutual dialogue between Turkey, its neighbors and Asia. Demands from Belgium and France to take part in MBFWI encourage us to include foreign designers in the near future.”

Exports are touted as a key growth avenue for the Turkish economy this year. According to the Turkish Exporters Assembly, exports in April rose 11.5 percent to reach $13.15 billion. Exports of apparel and textiles were $1.55 billion for the same month. In 2013, Turkey exported clothing worth $17.3 billion.

“In order to reach our $19 billion export target, we will participate in worldwide fairs throughout 2014,” said Hikmet Tanriverdi chairman of the Istanbul Ready-made Garment and Apparel Exporters Association.

In July, the biannual Paris trade event Who’s Next will honor Turkey as the guest country.

“I think Turkish brands and designers will benefit from this event commercially,” said Feride Tansug, founder of L’Appart PR Istanbul, the company that operates as the Turkish agent of Who’s Next. “Turkey has already proven its competence in textiles and [apparel] manufacturing. It now forges ahead in design and branding. Sixty brands and fashion designers will exhibit during the fair.”

Tanriverdi cited a growing number of Turkish brands. He said Turkey has moved on from its subcontractor position and created brands that export to different countries of the world.

“Our goal is to create 10 internationally known brands by 2023,” he said.

This does not seem like an unrealistic goal, considering Turkish brands already boast some 3,000 stores around the world. Fashion designer and Turkish Fashion Designers Association president Mehtap Elaidi said textile fairs also play a prominent role in helping brands and designers in defining their identity.

One of the world’s most prestigious fabric fairs, Première Vision, will stage an event in Istanbul for the first time from Oct. 29 to 31. It is expected to attract about 150 companies and 5,000 visitors.

“Turkey’s proximity to [the] Balkans, Iran, Iraq and Russia, which are the soaring regions in terms of textile production and demand, is earning attention,” said Première Vision chief executive officer Philippe Pasquet. “The Turkish economy is expected to grow 16 percent by 2017. And what’s more, textile and ready-to-wear has 17 percent export share.”

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