NEW YORK — As part of their ongoing effort to develop a strong position in the U.S. market prior to the phaseout of quotas on textiles and apparel among World Trade Organization nations in 2005, a contingent of Turkish apparel makers came to Manhattan to show its wares.
The Aegean Apparel Exporters’ Union sponsored Turkish Fashion Break New York, an exhibition of 28 apparel makers held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The European Union remains the nation’s primary export market, with Germany being a key destination for Turkish-made apparel. Turkey was the U.S.’s 19th-largest source of imported textiles and apparel in 2001.
Apparel and textile manufacturing is a significant contributor to the Turkish economy. According to data from the AAEU, the textile and apparel industries employ 21 percent of the country’s manufacturing labor force, generate 37 percent of the nation’s export earnings and contribute 5.5 percent of the Turkish gross national product.
Turkish manufacturers at the show said the U.S. remains an appealing market because of its sheer size. Yet they acknowledged that it can also be a challenging market.
“European companies and European consumers are willing to pay more for their articles and want more features in them,” said Viktor Mizrahi, owner of Istanbul-based First Representation and Foreign Trade Co., who sells packages of production service from Turkish factories. “The U.S. market is more interested in basics than Europeans and want things to be cheaper.”
He said that the question of how to compete in the postquota environment was a major concern in Turkey.
“For Turkey, it will be a problem. Turkish companies will do their best to have brands they can sell abroad,” he said. “Otherwise, it will be difficult to do business.”
While the Mavi jeans brand has carved out a sizable business in the U.S. market, Mizrahi could name no other significant Turkish apparel brands that have made headway in the U.S.
Emre Kizilgünesler, managing partner with Farbe Tekstil, based in Izmir, said his six-year-old apparel company ships 75 percent of its output to U.S. customers.
“The quantity is very good, to fill the factory, but the prices are low,” he said. His company tries to seek out few orders in large quantities, which allow for higher manufacturing efficiency, he said.
He acknowledged that the lifting of quotas, which many observers expect to result in a flood of goods from China, India and other low-cost nations, will likely hurt Turkish businesses. He hoped that by ensuring sound working conditions for laborers, the nation could distinguish itself.
“Turkey wants to be a part of the EU and we have to adapt their laws and practices,” he said. “We have a code of conduct policy and that is so important with the States.”
Even as they fretted over the effect that the lifting of quotas would have on their businesses, some Turkish manufacturers grumbled about the limits of the current quota system.
“We want to have more quotas. Turkey’s quotas are too low,” said Rifat Taranto, chairman of Natatakes, another Izmir-based garment market. “Quotas in the world are a good thing for us, but Turkey’s must be higher.”