MOSCOW — Caught in the middle. That’s a feeling shared by Russian retailers and Turkish manufacturers over the past months as tensions persist between the two countries following the downing of a Russian bomber aircraft near the Syrian border in November.
An important meeting of the two partners, the Collection Première Moscow trade fair in Moscow, which ends its four-day run here today, went ahead with a vastly reduced Turkish presence.
At CPM, which encompasses the Russian Fashion Retail Forum, the Turkish presence has traditionally been important. In the past, ITKIB, the Istanbul-based Textile & Clothing Exporters’ Union, organized a large country pavilion, with half of the expenses of ITKIB financed by the Turkish government, according to Anna Lebsak-Kleimans, chief executive officer of Moscow-based Fashion Consulting Group.
At the current session, CPM registered the participation of only three Turkish brands — Arda Tex, Biza and Guzella — that are not connected with ITKIB.
It is understood the absence of the country pavilion could dent visitor numbers, as many Russian buyers attended CPM primarily to do business with Turkish brands.
In February 2015, the Turkish pavilion at CPM housed between 30 and 40 exhibitors — among them Climber, AVVA, Mavi, Sassafur and Gizia — over a floor space of around 11,000 square feet.
ITKIB decided not to sponsor the Turkish pavilion at the 26th edition of CPM in light of the opaque situation following the Nov. 25 incident involving the Russian jet.
While there are no official sanctions on textile products from Turkey, there are de facto barriers affecting scores of Turkish manufacturers and Russian retailers.
“Clothing and textiles are not on the embargo list of the Russian government, so technically there should be no fear for both sides of exporting and importing. The only problem is customs,” said Reinhard E. Döpfer, an international textile and fashion marketing consultant.
He noted that many European brands present in Russia subcontract or produce in Turkey. For instance, Hugo Boss subcontracts production of garments in Izmir; however, this supply is not affected. Furthermore, Hugo Boss is 100 percent compliant with Russian rules and regulations as the German men’s wear giant operates a limited liability company in Russia in 2014. Ditto for Turkish retail chains including LC Waikiki and Koton.
Still, batches of clothes are often exposed to “individual” inspection at the border, which includes surveillance of shipping documents and physical inspection of garments with regards to correct labeling, Döpfer said. For example, fiber content must be identified on tags in Cyrillic script, along with the country of origin. Made in Turkey items are meant to be shipped separately, and the average length of inspection can stretch for six to eight weeks — risky for seasonal fashions and often leading to a pileup of goods.
One loophole manufacturers are using to bypass these checks is to change Made in Turkey to Made in Azerbaijan. However, Döpfer warned this process is not speeding the movement of goods.
According to Lebsak-Kleimans, Turkey has long been a key supplier to the Russian retail industry because of its ability to provide a market-right product. Makers there have the know-how and an ability to adapt to Russian tastes, which is crucial, she noted.
Turkish manufacturers can also delivery small quantities, are very flexible on orders and can typically make deliveries within five days. Such flexibility and speed cannot be offered by suppliers from China or Southeast Asia.
Russia is one of Turkey’s most important economic partners. The country accounts for 7 percent of total Russian textile and clothing imports, second only to China.
The Federal Customs Service of Russia acknowledges a decrease of imports from Turkey, but stops short of linking this to political retaliation.
Official numbers are not considered reliable as there is a black market on clothing imports. Typically large shipments of apparel or textile products are checked, while smaller quantities often slip through customs without declaration.
The Turkish tensions join a long list of woes in Russia, facing a tough moment marked by an economic crisis, a currency in free fall, Western sanctions and a drop in oil price.
All of the above continue to affect travel patterns.
“Turkey is particularly hit by the fallout of Russian tourists,” said Döpfer. “The construction sector is also hit for the Turks, because they build large commercial real estate, and stadiums for the FIFA event [in Russia] in 2018.”
Shortly after the November incident, the Russian government asked tour operators to stop selling packages for Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, one of the most preferred resort destinations for Russians.
The most recent data from tax-refund operator Global Data shows that Russian tourism fell 21.7 percent in January after a slight improvement in December, suggesting that a falling ruble, anemic oil prices and sanctions continue to sap consumer appetite. This was the 25th consecutive monthly decline for the Russian tourist globally.