The Textile, Knitting and Clothing Industry Workers' Union of Turkey (TEKSIF) has been caught in a tussle with the Turkish Textile Employers' Association (TUTSIS) over wage increases and premiums this week. The sector could lose $3bn, should TEKSIF not get its way, with 11,000 workers deployed to strike in September. That is despite continuous growth in exports and an otherwise positive dynamic of the industry - one that requires examination in a year where there has been little rainfall.
Though cotton growers and, by extension, the textiles and apparel industry have suffered due to a lack of precipitation over the last year, changing weather patterns across the world have come as a mixed blessing for Turkish textile manufacturers. "Climate change has been unpredictable, resulting in a need for new clothing collections at short notice which Turkey is well equipped to supply" according to Aynur Bektas, chairwoman of the Turkish Clothing and Manufacturers' Association (TGSD.) With their fast delivery times to Europe and creative flair, Turkey's leading textiles companies have been able to increase orders from the world's top clothing brands.
Rapid delivery and creative talent have not been the only factors that have accounted for the success of Turkey's most competitive textiles companies. Decades of experience in the industry, coupled with quality output and investments in cutting-edge technologies, have contributed to the resilience of the country's best in face of competition from East Asia. Turkey's less competitive firms - the majority of which had failed to develop a qualitative edge over their low-cost Asian competitors - were squeezed out of the market following the expiry of the Multi Fibre Arrangement and supposed removal of global quotas in January 2005.
Despite the success of Turkey's heavyweight manufacturers, the country has been slow in developing its own big international brands. "Apart from Mavi Jeans, it is hard to think of big Turkish brands that have made it internationally. I don't expect any other big Turkish brand to emerge in the near future," GISAD Foreign Trade's General Manager Elvan Cetintas told OBG. That said, a number of Turkish brands have made a name for themselves in the nearby region. "LITTLE BIG is big in Russia and Redstar is popular in Eastern Europe," according to TGSD's Bektas.
The rest of Turkey's textile and apparel producers have become increasingly aware of the importance of brand development, with many manufacturers opening their own retail chains locally. But developing a brand is clearly an expensive and time-consuming process.
Claims by members of the industry that Turkey is likely to become the next Paris or Milan, are not altogether unfounded. There has already been a gravitational shift, with Italian brands showing increased interest in the designs of their local partners in Turkey. "Business is moving from Portugal to Turkey,'' said Bektas. "Portuguese firms do not offer as much as their Turkish counterparts. The Italians want to work with companies that have their own design shops and in-house production."
It is little coincidence that Turkey has realised solid growth over recent months. According to a May statement by Minister for Foreign Trade Kursad Tuzmen, textile exports grew by a robust 24% in the first quarter of 2007, while apparel exports realised a 16% spike in the same period. After venturing into Asia and experiencing the slow delivery times to Western markets, relative inflexibility in production and limited quality of work, European orders returned to Turkey in the second half of 2006.
This is not to say that all is completely rosy. Industry insiders say they would like to have more support from the government in research and development, with the provision of incentives to create new collections. Though selectively applied to those companies with the greatest potential, Turkey's TURQUALITY scheme shows that government support already exists in brand development and the promotion of Turkey's top quality products abroad.
Meanwhile, the textiles and apparel industry will continue to be important for Turkey both in terms of supplying jobs and contribution to the economy, accounting for approximately 8% of GNP. Turkey's leading textiles manufacturers are decidedly positive about the future, thanks in no small part to the increased number of European orders that they continue to net.