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IFCO brings over 600 exhibitors to Istanbul, many buyers from Russia and Middle East

By Isabella Naef


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Clothes by Turkish brand Viola&Vesper. Credits: FashionUnited

While Turkey has been a sourcing destination for a large number of international fashion companies for decades, its trade fair sector is structured in such a way that manufacturers who not only produce clothing but also have their own brands can present themselves to a varied audience - especially buyers from the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

The fifth edition of Istanbul Fashion Connection (IFCO), organised by Itkib, the Istanbul Textile and Clothing Exporters Association, ended on Saturday, 10th February in Istanbul, with the next edition taking place from 7th to 9th August 2024.

FashionUnited was invited to the fair, which provided an opportunity to get closer to this market and talk to the apparel producers and designers present at the event. Over 600 exhibitors and brands gathered on 100,000 square meters of exhibition space with their collections for women, men, babies and children as well as denim and activewear, underwear and hosiery, occasion wear as well as bridal wear, leather and shoes.

Turkey is EU's third largest supplier of garments and textiles

The organisers expected more than 30,000 visitors, including buyers and industry experts; however, at the time of this writing, the final figures had not been announced. What is certain, however, is that Turkey represents an important reference point for the European fashion industry and trade.

Impressions at IFCO. Credits: FashionUnited

As the third largest supplier of garments and textiles to the EU, Turkey offers clear competitive advantages, emphasised Fatih Zengin, deputy secretary general of Itkib, the Istanbul Association of Garment Exporters. “I’m talking about short lead times, manufacturing quality and customisation,” said Zengin.

In the area “The Core”, 25 Turkish designers presented their brands who export their small productions to the USA, Europe and the Middle East. This also included Nej, a brand founded by Nej Nejla Güvenç. A pioneer of Turkey’s vision of “sustainability in fashion”, the designer was part of the design teams of various Turkish brands for many years and later founded her own sustainable brand Nej in 2002. The Itkib-backed designer also works as a consultant for Turquality, a government program aimed at promoting companies' own brands, transcending the mere need to increase exports.

Fabrics certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and EcoBamboo are among the materials used for Nej’s collection presented at IFCO. The items cost between 160 euros for a sweatshirt and 400 euros for a coat.

Nej founder and designer Nej Nejla Güvenç at IFCO. Credits: FashionUnited

Other brands represented at “The Core” area included Armine, Gizia, Kayra and Viola&Vesper. The latter was founded by Ece and Ozge and is known for its evening dresses and glamorous pieces that can be turned into everyday wear by combining them with jeans and more sporty pieces. It exports its creations mainly to the Middle East. Ece, the label's creative soul, told FashionUnited that she graduated from Parsons School of Design and continued her career with Vera Wang, Zac Posen and Yazbukey.

“Sequins, rhinestones, feathers and extravagant details are the basic elements of our timeless collections. Viola&Vesper represents the two opposing personalities that live in every woman. Sometimes, she can feel like Viola, inspired by Shakespeare's Twelfth Night — mystical, natural, passionate and determined. At other times, she can feel like Vesper, inspired by James Bond's one true love, Vesper Lynd — bold, flamboyant, spontaneous and fearless,” explained the founders.

Trend area dedicated to introspection

IFCO dedicated an ad hoc section to trends, which was designed by Turkish fashion school IMA (Istanbul Moda Academy), a member of the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes. The theme for Fall/Winter 25-26 was “Introspect”. This was understood as an individual commitment to creating a better version of ourselves, combined with assistive technologies and artificial intelligence, which should serve as accelerators for ideas and creativity. The focus was on design psychology.

In addition to an area for designers, IFCO hosted a pavilion dedicated to established brands and manufacturers. This included Cebir Giyim with the Maraton Sportswear brand. Founded in 1992 by four brothers led by Celal Kaya, the company started in a small tailor shop in Laleli and began by making tracksuits.

Baby romper by Ozmoz Credits: FashionUnited

Subsequently, Cebir Giyim took over the Maraton Sportswear brand in 2000 and established the menswear design team in 2001. Today Maraton Sportswear has over 100 employees, five stores in Laleli and Merter and a growing market share. “We are opening up new markets,” confirmed Neze Hat Aksoy, the brand’s export, import and legal manager. He highlighted the company's efforts to make garments intended for sports increasingly comfortable, for instance through the use of high quality materials, as supplied by Italian fibre maker Fulgar.

“We also work with many of Nike's suppliers and decided some time ago to print the labels in bas-relief directly on the fabric to prevent the heel tabs from interfering with skin contact.” The manager added that the company is working on the introduction of the digital product passport: “It will also prove to be very useful in combating counterfeiting.”

Italian womenswear brand Camomilla brand uses the Turkish company Yüksel Textile, which also produces the Aj 81 and Yxl Collection brands. However, “the first market for our company is Germany, followed by the USA, Belgium and Ireland,” stated Nury Yüksel from the Yüksel Textile Group.

Kidswear brands focus increasingly on sustainability

Collection by Ozmoz Credits: FashionUnited

Turkish company Ozmoz Clothing offers children's clothing and until last year, counted several Italian and other European children's fashion brands among its customers. “With this new collection, we have expanded our sustainability commitment,” said Mahir Ozden, vice president of Ozmoz, whose resume also includes a doctorate in textiles. “To save water, we use a process that does not require us to wash the garments after printing, but rather secures them with heat.”

In addition, organic cotton is often used for children's clothing lines. “The price is a little higher: it ranges from 30 to 39 euros for a traditional cotton romper to 40 to 45 euros for one made from organic cotton,” adds Ozden, pointing out that the sustainable line is very popular with northern European customers.

The Gelisim Group is a supplier of US company Vf Corporation. “We produce for The North Face, Timberland, Hally Hanson, Vans, among others,” confirms Gülen Yavuz, sales and marketing manager at Gelisim Tekstil. The company, which employs 725 people and has revenue of 87 million US dollars, has average delivery times of approximately 4 to 7 weeks and an annual production capacity of approximately 7 million units.

The trend area. Credits: FashionUnited

Turkish imports in numbers

According to SMI data, 47.1 percent of textiles and garment imported into Italy come from the EU; non-EU countries make up the remaining 52.9 percent, similar to other European countries. While the January-August period of 2023 ended with a growth of 12.1 percent, a later one recorded a decline of 11.4 percent.

During this period, despite a decline of 22.1 percent, China remained in first place with an increase of 16.5 percent on total imports. Second was France with a double-digit positive change of 15 percent, followed by Spain with an increase of 8.8 percent. Bangladesh, on the other hand, recorded a decline of 15.3 percent to 1.1 billion euros. Turkey, India and Pakistan also recorded declines, in contrast to the other main suppliers, which showed positive dynamics.

In the first nine months of 2023, China confirmed its position as the industry's top supplier in the menswear sector despite a decrease of 12.9 percent compared to the same period last year. Bangladesh, in second place, also recorded a double-digit decline by 16.5 percent. France was in third place with growth of 21.1 percent; followed by the Netherlands, the traditional entry point for goods from Asia, which recorded a plus of 20.1 percent.

Among the remaining top 15 suppliers, Turkey, Pakistan and Vietnam recorded declines of 4.2 percent, 7.9 percent and 15.8 percent, respectively, while all other key supplier countries showed a positive dynamic, between 2.4 percent for Albania in 13th place and 77 percent for Switzerland in 12th place.

„The Core“ presents Turkish designers. Credits: FashionUnited

This article was originally published on FashionUnited Italy . Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.

Istanbul Fashion Connection