When the doors of the third Istanbul Fashion Connection (IFCO) opened on Wednesday, 8th February 2023, visitors and exhibitors did not really have textiles and garments on their mind but were in thoughts with the victims and survivors of the terrible earthquakes that shook Turkey and Syria mere two days earlier, in the early hours of Monday, 6th February. Many, in fact, questioned if IFCO should have been held at all.
There were two main reasons why the organisers decided to go ahead as planned: For one, more than 2.000 buyers had already arrived in Istanbul and two, after such a shock, Turkey needs a strong economy to bounce back, and events like IFCO can help.
However, the fair took place in a somewhat slimmed down version: In respect to those affected and the weeklong mourning declared by Turkish president Erdoğan, there was no opening ceremony, no gala dinner, no fashion shows. There were trend seminars though by WGSN and Academia della Moda Milan and well attended exhibition halls - both with visitors and exhibitors alike.
According to official numbers, there were 588 exhibitors and 22,543 visitors from 134 countries, making the third edition of IFCO the till date biggest one. While the majority of visitors came from Turkey (55 percent), of the remaining 45 percent international visitors, one third (33 percent) was from Asia, another third (33 percent) from the Middle East, almost one fifth (19 percent) from Europe and the rest (13 percent) from Africa.
Of the buying delegations from abroad was About You from Germany, Adrenalease and Aritzia from Canada, Spring Near East Manufacturing from the UK, Desserto, Grupo Carolina, Koos, Nobus, Sportek and others from Mexico, and Derek Lam, Eighty One Int’l and RKMB from USA among representatives from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Panama, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand and UAE. The Russian Association of Fashion Industry (RAFI) was present with its own booth and had organised a delegation of 350 Russian buyers who were present not only to meet Turkish business partners but also those from other Russian-speaking countries.
However, the nine halls presenting womenswear, menswear, childrenswear, denim, sportswear, evening- and weddingwear, lingerie, hosiery, leather and furs were never overcrowded and by the third day, visitors had thinned out considerably. But with 100,000 square meters, the exhibition ground was huge and footfall my have felt a bit sparser than it actually was.
On the brand side, market leaders such as İpekyol, DS Damat, Kiğılı, Altınyıldız, B&G Store, Lufian, Jakamen, Batik, NaraMaxx, Giovane Gentile, Lee Cooper and Tudors were present and used IFCO to further expand their international network.
“We exhibited at IFCO for the first time as İpekyol. The exhibition was very good from our perspective, we achieved very positive results. We hosted many visitors and buyers, and participated in the matchmaking. We entered into discussions with buyers from the Eastern European countries as well as the European Union countries. Especially the first two days of the exhibition were very busy. In the following days, we followed up on various discussions. We received very positive feedback from buyers that visited our stand. It was very helpful that foreign buyers could see significant apparel brands of Türkiye all together at a special hall,” commented Ertuğrul Yalçınkaya, sample tracking reporting specialist at İpekyol.
In two separate halls, LinExpo as part of IFCO gave an overview of segments such as lingerie, hosiery, nightwear and childrenswear with 145 participating manufacturers, among them lingerie makers Eiline and Vanilya Secret, nightwear and lingerie brand Doremi, hosiery manufacturer Daymod and organic babywear producer Zeynep. The order of the stalls seemed quite random, so that it was not uncommon to have a lingerie maker right next to hosiery or childrenswear. For the next edition, a clearer segmentation would help visitors find what they are looking for faster.
One highlight of this year’s edition was the newly added area for established and up-and-coming Turkish designers, aptly named “The Core”. More than 20 designers like Arzul Kaprol, Gül Agis, Mehmet Emiroglu, Asli Filinta, Merve Ulu, Naz Bileydi Yenigün, Yasemin Ögün and Yacup Bicer exhibited their collections here and were eager to answer any questions visitors may have. Among their brands were Lug von Siga, Guaj London, Asli Filinta, Kuela, By the Oak, Muse for All and Y Plus.
“The common theme of this area, with all these high-end Turkish designers, is that they are very much into local fabrics. By the Oak uses local fabrics for linings, for example, which is very apt for contemporary menswear. At Asli [Filinta], the print design we can see is a kind of collage with all wooden tiles and prints, different mosaics. She has also added upcycling with local fabrics, which is the theme of the season,” explained fashion consultant and veteran Günes Güner.
Arzul Kaprol, one of Turkey’s top designers, presented her new line “K by Kaprol” of mainly kaftans, beachwear and leisurewear. As Kaprol explained, all pieces are “100 percent produced and inspired in Anatolia” and are made of either 100 percent cotton, silk or vegan silk by local women’s groups. Some of the prints are created by hand using wooden moulds, making each piece unique.
Another highlight was the Trend Area curated by IMA, Istanbul Moda Akademisi, whose topic for FW24-25 is “Resilience”. It was divided into four areas dedicated to the trends and themes of the coming season: “Euphoric Recall” encompassed a colourful, playful 70's vibes, while “Metasphere” described the return of glitter and metallic with a futuristic touch, “Bio-Nat” was all about the perception of the environment with a focus on reviving and resisting, while “Sane Mind” focused on the intelligent home with post-traumatic stress design, placing mental wealth and mindful purity at the centre.
The “New Gen” area featured pieces by up-and-coming designers of the next generation and a separate display was dedicated to the KOZA Young Fashion Designers Competition, which has been held annually since 1992. Over the years, KOZA has established designers such as Bahar Korcan, Hakan Yildirim, Özgür Masur, Hatice Gökçe, Elif Cigizoglu, Giray Sepin, Niyazi Edogan, Zeynep Tasun, Özlem Kaya, Zeynep Erdogan, Ayse Deniz Yegin, Kadir Kiliç and others.
Turkish design and designers abroad
While Turkey has a long tradition of design and homegrown brands, they have been more in demand in markets like Russia, North Africa and the Middle East and more of a well-kept secret in markets like Europe and North America, where Turkish fashion companies were previously active more in terms of the branding of other labels. This is to change now, with IFCO being one such initiative to get the word out.
Designer Arzul Kaprol credits organisations like the Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporter Associations (ITKIB), Istanbul’s fashion school IMA (Istanbul Moda Akademisi) established in 2007 to support fledgling brands, and events like IFCO with promoting and supporting Turkish designers in international markets. “My first fashion show was with the support of ITKIB and since then, I have been part of Paris Fashion Week’s official calendar. I have grown my business and design thinking and being at IFCO today with ITKIB support and seeing all my friends is so heart-warming, seeing all international visitors is valuable,” she says.
Fashion consultant Güner agrees that the Turkish textile and garment industry needs strong organisations, fairs and press to make Turkish brands and designers known internationally. The Covid-19 pandemic has made nearshoring and therefore Turkey more attractive to international buyers who according to Güner “are always looking for something unique, twisted, with a different culture” and who appreciate the “cultural richness in Turkey”.
However, because Turkey is mainly known as a sourcing country, designers often have to work harder to establish themselves. “We are very adaptive but that can also mean you lose authenticity. We are trying to change that,” she says. For her, the main obstacle is the lack of knowledge about Turkish brands and designers abroad. “It is a strong wall that we need to tackle,” she adds.
Many a brand focused on sustainability at IFCO and though there was no exchange of opinions in the form of industry talks and panel discussions, exhibitors and visitors were only too eager to talk about the topic.
Turkish manufacturer Sik Makas specialises in denim products and sells them to big brands and retailers in Germany, Poland and Russia. But that accounts for only 20 percent of its business - its private label Cross Jeans accounts for the remaining 80 percent. It is currently available at more than 3,200 points of sales, in 30 monobrand stores and at online retailers such as Zalando, Otto and Amazon. With a head office in Istanbul and 7.000 workers in two factories in Turkey (one of them LEED-certified) and one in Egypt, Sikmakas produces around 20 million pieces per year.
Sustainability is a must as team leader Rifat Orak explains to FashionUnited: “Water saving is very important and so is efficient carbon management.” The company also offers life cycle analyses (LCAs) as part of its services to customers who ask for it. “This makes a product more expensive by two to three euros but end consumers are increasingly asking about the environmental impact of what they are buying,” says Orak.
Sustainability is a must-have for designer Kaprol too, citing protection of the planet, durability and longevity as main reasons: “As a textile industry, we have to make things sustainable… we don’t have any more space to keep rubbish textiles.” For her, sustainability is a way of thinking: “All the relationships that we keep in our lives - with ourselves, with our friends, with our thoughts, with our fashion items, with our wardrobes - have to last longer. This is the main personal goal in life.”
As a sourcing and textile-producing country, Turkish designers look for local fabrics first. In fact, according to fashion consultant Güner, going for deadstock at fabric factories first is almost a given. “Turkish designers upcycle well, for example a local fabric, and then they redo it with deadstock,” she says. For her, sustainability is part of Anatolian culture, “we are used to living with zero waste, nothing is garbage,” she explains. In addition, vintage is in and for her, it makes sense to invest in good, quality pieces.
Manufacturer Demezoglu produces high-quality cotton, knitwear, jersey and fleece products for Italian luxury brands like Versace and Moschino. With quality and simplicity being in the foreground, “the factory is an important point for material know-how,” says Yavuz Ozturk of Demezoglu when talking to FashionUnited. With just 100 employees for cutting, sewing and finishing, each one becomes a valuable resource. “You must take a stance,” he says when it comes to calling something ‘organic’ and when asking for a fair price. “You understand when customers have a real need and when there is greed,” he adds.
The earthquakes of 6th February 2023 hit Turkey’s Southeast, an area known for short staple cotton production (the Aegean area is known for long staple cotton). While garment factories are located towards northern and central Turkey, the open-end cotton yarn spinners and denim fabric mills in the affected area, especially the cities around the initial impact site - Malatya, Kahramanmaras, Adana and Adiyama - have been impacted. Though it is still too early to estimate the impact on factories, many of which withstood the tremors, the affected area covers ten cities and almost 14 million people - many of whom have been displaced, injured or killed, which will be a severe blow to the workforce.
“In the short term, factories are sourcing critical materials from the impacted areas and moving it to areas not impacted by the earthquake to continue production as best as possible. Currently, all logistics companies aid the transport of donations and help for affected areas, so typical deliveries of fabric and products are on hold. We anticipate the medium- and long-term effects to be minimal as production gets back to near-normal. In the long term, reconstruction of impacted factories will be more resistant to future earthquakes due to increased legislation,” explains Bülent Alkanli, executive vice president of supply chain experts 28One, in an email to FashionUnited.
“Half of our fabrics are produced in Hatay, Antakya, which has had the biggest casualties. We are in constant contact with our local producers. Thank god they are all safe but the whole city has collapsed,” reports designer Kaprol. “Today, as an industry, we have a bigger role to support: I can say that all the designers here, while they are showing their best collections with their best faces outwardly, within our group, all of them are stitching protective clothes now. We can stand as one force to protect our people and that is our duty,” she adds.
Among the official efforts underway to help workers and businesses is a pause in credit collection that the government announced for those affected while businesses have been exempted from tax payments for the next few months. Impacted families are getting financial aid and across Turkey, schools are accepting transfers of students free of charge, according to Alkanli.
“Türkiye Exporters Assembly (TIM) and Exporters’ Associations initiated an immediate aid campaign in coordination with the official Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Türkiye to help the victims. Over 150 trucks full of food, water, winter clothes, socks, underwear, winter shoes and boots, blankets, slumber jacks, baby diapers, electric heaters and dried foods have already been sent. However, over 6,500 buildings have collapsed in Türkiye, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Shelters and evacuations are not enough yet and the situation is dire for those still left on the street. In this respect, TIM and Exporters’ Associations have started a new campaign consisting of prefabricated components next to organized industrial zones to establish temporary shelter centres and to provide facilities to continue production,” explains IHKIB vice chairman Mustafa Paşahan.
Asked about what the international textile and garment industry and especially international buyers can do to help, Alkanli said: “Continue ordering and buying from Turkish manufacturers. Have patience for the upcoming shipments. Don't cancel tourism or buying trips due to the earthquake as the area affected is outside most tourist spots and buying areas. Now is the time to show true partnership and to build together.”
Turkey's textile and clothing sector accounted for an export volume of 31.2 billion US dollars in 2022, 12.4 percent of Turkey's total exports and 6.7 percent of the total GDP. Both sectors employ over 1.2 million people. An export volume of over 21 billion US dollars makes Turkey the sixth largest garment exporter in the world. In the medium term, the country targets an export volume of 40 billion US dollars. Turkey is already the third largest supplier to the clothing market in the European Union. Other markets such as North and South America are also becoming more important. Exports to the US have increased by more than 60 percent over the past five years.
Overall, IFCO is in the process of establishing itself as a central meeting point between Europe and Asia but also for the Americas and Africa, taking advantage of Turkey’s unique position of not only supply raw materials (cotton), technical know-how in the garment and textile areas but also being a dependable sourcing location and having a firm base when it comes to design.
“Especially due to the matchmaking we conducted on-site, we were generally very pleased with the exhibition. We are planning to exhibit at the next edition of IFCO as well which is organised twice a year. Our country needed a fashion show. IFCO was very useful in this sense,” summed up Nihat Onuk, director of international business development, his impressions of the fair.
Going forward, there are a few things that would make IFCO a truly international (af)fair: Seminars and panel discussions by industry experts from Turkey and abroad to share information and chart the course ahead, information and staff ready with details in English, and a much more segmented hall layout by product that would make the fair easier to navigate for visitors.
The fourth edition of IFCO will take place from 9th to 11th August 2023.
The IFCO organisers invited FashionUnited to the fair.