NEW YORK — Turkey straddles lines of geography and culture — most of its landmass is on the Asian continent, yet it is seeking inclusion in the European Union.
Turkey’s textile industry also bridges the gap between those poles, seeking to offer the creativity that buyers expect from European mills at prices closer to those offered in the Far East.
In an effort to be more competitive with their Western rivals, some of the 49 exhibitors at last week’s Turkish Fabric Fashion Exhibition rolled out fall 2005-winter 2006 collections produced by Italian designers they had added to their staffs.
“We really wanted to distinguish ourselves as a premier mill, and hiring these designers full time, in place of just using them as consultants, was one way for us to step up and visually stimulate the customer with product that is more design-driven and more feminine,” said Okan Toklucu, vice president of Altinyildiz’s textile division.
Highlights of the firm’s line included wool, rayon and silk blended tweeds in an array of colors, as well as wool and Lycra spandex ones that featured soft Lurex metallic-fiber stripes.
The show ran July 20-21 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.
Acharee Apibunyopas, design director for Sg Wicus, a Seoul-based women’s apparel manufacturer, said she didn’t find much to suit her needs at the show, but that Turkish mills overall have “superb” quality.
“Their price point is very good and their turn time; their technology is Western,” she said. “All of their fabric, pretty much, is machine washable. They have the people, they’re very close to Milan and Paris, and they have all the people do development over there also.”
Viewed as a whole, Turkey’s textile industry occupies a price range close to that of its major Asian rivals — such as China or India.
On average, fabrics imported to the U.S. from Turkey during the year ended in May cost 65 cents per square meter equivalent, compared with 95 cents for fabric from the EU and 62 cents for Chinese textiles. The average price point is a rough number that looks at the full scope of imported fabrics and does not take into account differences in product type or quality.
Over that time period, Turkey shipped $126.5 million worth of fabric to the U.S., a figure that was down 14.5 percent from the prior year, according to Commerce Department data. U.S. imports of Turkish apparel over that time fell 5.7 percent to $1.18 billion.
Trying to close the 3-cent gap between Turkish and Chinese prices would be a fool’s errand, some exhibitors said.
“You can try to compete with [East] Asia, but it’s not feasible,” said Zeynep Ergin, also a vice president at Altinyildiz. From Turkey, he said, “You have the higher quality, you have the Italian product, but at a lesser price.”
Another Turkish firm that had added an Italian designer was BTD.
Francesca DeVito, the U.S. agent for BTD, said the addition “absolutely adds a special touch.” BTD showed cotton and wool blends alongside heavy cotton and spandex ones with subtle textures such as stripes and tweeds.
Price is just one area where the firm is striving to be competitive.
Ergin said Altinyildiz is also trying to brand its products and exploit the value of certain technical additions, such as protein finishes that make fabrics softer. The company has also started producing garments.
The pressure on Turkish mills is expected to continue next year. That’s when the elimination of quotas on apparel and textiles by the nations of the World Trade Organization will open the way for an increased share of the market to go to low-wage countries, especially in the Far East.
“This year is tough, and next year will be tough,” said Gülden Dogan, fabric export department manager for Aksu, a wool firm. “We need to be more creative. We need to give quick deliveries, quick service. We can’t compete with price anymore.”
Some exhibitors at the show were less wary of the competitive prowess of China.
“All over the world, everybody’s afraid of China, but I’m not scared at all,” said Rafi Kohen, owner of Ilteks, which markets cottons, cotton blends and knitted fabrics. “If you do nice stuff there is nothing to be scared of — nice stuff at convenient prices.”
Kohen said the show was a good opportunity for Turkey to present a good image of its fabric business to the U.S. market.
“We’re not investing in machinery,” he said. “We’re investing in creativity and quality. This is what we actually are, modern people…who are doing good production.”
On the fashion front, color continued to be strong at the show. Sucuka Jersey showed flocked looks and two-toned shades on everything from jersey to mesh, as well as baroque-inspired prints in a variety of saturated hues. At Confetti, design director Burcak Ozcebe said she was inspired by paisleys.
“They’re shown on different grounds, including silk and rayon,” she said.
Denim-heavy mill Dynamo also showed a lot of color. “People are now bored with denim, so the direction for us is to show it in different, bright colors,” said Bora Kurtasi, marketing manager. Bonded cotton fabrics were also shown with bright colors on both sides.
At Ozbucak, highlights included a group of checks and stripes for bottomweights, all with hints of bright hues. “Color is still key,” said Luis Rivera, who is in sales at the mill’s U.S. agent, J.P. Doumak. Candy colors were also featured on a group of tonal stripes.