Last week I visited the Istanbul Fashion Connection (IFCO) event in Istanbul, Türkiye, as a guest of the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (IHKIB). In some ways it was the worst possible week to visit. But in other ways, I was blessed to have an opportunity to watch – in real time – an industry pull together during a crisis.
While Istanbul is some 11 hours away by car from the earthquake’s epicentre, simply knowing you are in Türkiye, a country that has had ten cities wiped out a day earlier is unnerving. Naturally, for the majority of Turkish companies at the event, it wasn’t easy to conduct business as usual.
Pretty much all domestic flights were cancelled or running on reduced operations as the focus was removing survivors from earthquake-hit zones while schools and academic institutes were closed, and celebratory events cancelled in line with the national mourning period.
Black ribbons were donned at the event in solidarity of those most impacted by the tragedy. IFCO’s organisers went above and beyond to ensure buyers – at least 2,000 of whom had already landed in Istanbul the day before – were still able to meet with suppliers and export organisations.
Though Istanbul is mostly populated by apparel production facilities, many are reliant on domestic fabric imports from the Hatay and Malatya regions, while Gaziantep houses many leather shoe factories.
Meanwhile Better Cotton says its Farmers and Programme Partners are among the victims, and many members – including ginners, spinners and traders – are based in the affected areas. The Fair Labour Association notes the affected region is host to a number of textile and garment factories that are suppliers of international brands, including some FLA member companies.
The devastation comes at a time when many Turkish garment manufacturers are looking to ramp up their sourcing of raw materials from domestic makers in a bid to showcase the strengths of the country as a producer. The Turkish denim sector, for example, predominantly relies on cotton grown within the country which is then spun into fabric – in the country – then made into denim jeans and jackets – in the same country.
Many suppliers I spoke with at the event explained this full-circle, localised production approach, allows them to gain an overview of the entire apparel supply chain at a time when traceability is becoming paramount. It also appeals to international buyers as it means Türkiye’s garment makers aren’t hanging about waiting on raw materials to finish then shipping goods at a time when speed-to-market is essential.
Over 70% of Türkiye’s apparel exports are destined for the EU and the country is doubling down on its focus to penetrate the US market further. Moreover, its textiles sector is the third largest export for the country after automotive and agriculture.
From what I’ve witnessed over the last week, the Turkish textile sector has the ability to be something truly great. The high-quality of fabrics, the attention to detail on garment finishes, the focus on sustainable production and digitalisation, and, particularly for Europe, the ideal geographical positioning which means it can deliver in a fraction of the time it would take to bring in goods from China, Vietnam or Bangladesh.
What’s needed now is its imminent recovery and international support. It’s crucial that buyers work with apparel factories to understand the impact of the earthquake on their operations and offer support where needed. Monetary support is, of course, key at this point and more steps like those taken by the likes of Inditex, Kering and M&S, are needed. The faster the earthquake-hit zones are able to recover and rebuild, the faster the country’s textile industry is able to realise its true potential on a global scale.
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