Fur-trimmed shearlings were key at the show.

A group of 35 Turkish leather goods makers made their country's first concerted effort to try to woo U.S. retailers during the inaugural edition of the Turkish Leather Goods show in Manhattan.

A group of 35 Turkish leather goods makers made their country’s first concerted effort to try to woo U.S. retailers during the inaugural edition of the Turkish Leather Goods show in Manhattan.

Although Turkey exported $1.2 billion worth of leather products last year, a gain compared with 2005’s $1 billion in sales, the U.S. accounts for an inconsequential percentage of that total, said Lemi Tolunay, chairman of the Istanbul Leather and Leather Products Exporters’ Association. After successfully entering new markets such as Poland, Finland, Romania, Latvia and Estonia, Turkish leather companies are determined to expand their presence in the U.S. The Turkish Leather Council decided to organize the three-day event that ended Thursday at the Grand Hyatt here to help the 35 companies make more of a splash.

“Some of these companies have their own showrooms or reps in the U.S., but that was not enough,” Tolunay said.

In addition, several firms manufacture branded goods for internationally well-known businesses, which he declined to name.

Leather goods have been made in Turkey for 400 years and its leather manufacturing technology is one of the world’s best. It has built a following among Italian companies, Tolunay said. The country’s 250 to 300 leather apparel manufacturers have the infrastructure and know-how to increase production, he added.

Plans are under way to establish another show in July or August that would highlight Turkey’s raw leather producers. Turkish leather makers have committed to returning next January for another edition of the leather goods show.

The U.S. military presence in Iraq, one of the eight countries that Turkey borders, has not deterred Turkish companies from pursuing the American market. “War is not elegant, but on the other side, we must do our business,” Tolunay said. “Life must go on.”

Mando Suri, owner of the Levinson label, said the U.S. market accounts for 3 to 5 percent of his $32 million women’s business, but he aims to make it a minimum of 15 percent within the next three years. The brand’s women’s collection wholesales from $250 to $900 and generates about $20 million in sales annually, he said.

Suri, who has made headway in Russia, France, England, Italy, Spain, Japan and Greece, is now focused on the U.S. “We have several customers in New York and we have picked up three or four others. America has big potential,” he said.

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Mefin Ocak, owner of M.M. Deri, was so keen about the men’s collection that he modeled some styles for a few visitors. The women’s label, La Piel, is sold in Italian Connection’s two stores here. To try to get more of a foothold here, the heavily embellished collection is competitively priced at $200 for leather coats and $500 for shearlings.

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