Disruptions across global supply chains opened up a glaring need for digitization to fill these gaps. But in Turkey, one industry body says the market’s apparel sector has been fully equipped to handle the challenges faced both throughout the pandemic and going forward, namely because online sales continue to skyrocket.
While approximately 14 percent of Turkish apparel sales occurred online at the end of 2020, the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (IHKIB) believes this percentage can grow to 50 percent. Anticipating such high growth, the association argues that Turkey’s flexible apparel manufacturers are well positioned for the shift to strong online spending. Before the pandemic, these manufacturers already produced quick-turn, smaller quantities across various fabrics, including denim, hosiery, outerwear and knitwear.
In 2020’s pivot to e-commerce, Turkish apparel manufacturers stepped up to the plate, exporting 10 percent more apparel goods than in 2019.
On the B2B side, Turkish mills hopped on digitization via digital communication and design technologies, enabling brands to cater to retail demand shifts and address orders in real time. During the pandemic, the mills leveraged these technologies to keep open communication with buyers when they requested order cancellations or delays.
These mills sought to prevent certain processes from overlapping, which often occurs without real-time communication, says IHKIB board member Mehmet Kaya.
“Whether it is through redundancies in design and sampling, particularly as many brands and manufacturers relied on physical samples, the IHKIB is looking to mitigate partner chain overlaps,” Kaya said. “The association is promoting digitization, particularly the use of software tools to eliminate overlapping activities and help companies increase their profitability and save their margins.”
Before 3D sampling, the physical sampling phase between producers and buyers lasted longer, said IHKIB board member Ismail Kolunsağ.
“When a customer asked for a small sample change, this would force the restart of the whole process. Now, it takes only a few minutes to apply changes,” said Kolunsağ. “If brands are using the same software system as manufacturers, they do not have to ask for a change, as they can do this on their own.”
Trade shows, sustainability, bolster digitization initiatives
Digitization doesn’t just apply to design and sampling. IHKIB believes ERP systems and traceability systems give supply chains greater insight into customer data, purchase orders and raw material origins.
Digitization also extends to industry trade shows. During the pandemic, Turkey’s apparel industry showcased its adaptability when IHKIB hosted two all-digital Fashion Week events in October 2020 and April 2021. Throughout April’s Fashion Week, designers had complete creative control over how they could bring their digital collections to global audiences. They could choose the theme, season or gender they wanted to showcase, as well as their own location to shoot video.
IHKIB, which represents 67 percent of Turkey’s apparel exports and has more than 17,600 exporter members, also believes that digitization and sustainability are interrelated subjects, so brands must consider those conversations hand in hand.
“It is not possible to trace and control sustainability without digitization. It has transformed the industry into a new shape,” Kolunsağ said. “For instance, with digitization, denim producers are now using laser technology in the designing processes. Thanks to that, the water consumption in denim production has decreased.”
Turkey focuses on US market
The Turkish apparel industry has another incentive driving its digitization push—gaining a foothold in the massive U.S. market. While between 65 and 70 percent of Turkish apparel production goes to E.U. countries, only 4 percent goes to the U.S., according to IHKIB.
“We’re confident in targeting our goal to double our export value to the U.S., and the industry is following suit by strongly investing in new factories and new digitalization technologies,” said IHKIB chairman Mustafa Gültepe.
Currently, Turkey exports between $650 million and $700 million in apparel goods to the U.S. annually, the association said. Gültepe believes digitization will enable more manufacturers to gain access to new brands and learn more about customer and product demands. If the industry digitization is adopted in full, he estimates that the country has a potential export value of $5 billion to the U.S. market.
Learn more about the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (IHKIB), their members and recent projects here.