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Why the ‘Partner Chain’ is Critical to Turkey’s Apparel Sourcing Success

While much of the global apparel industry’s attention is on sourcing leaders like China, Vietnam and Bangladesh, Turkey is showing that there is plenty of reason for brands to bet big on the country’s manufacturing operations this year.

In 2020, Turkey’s apparel exports were no slouch, totaling $17.1 billion in value, according to the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (IHKIB). IHKIB is the leading apparel industry association in Turkey, representing nearly 66 percent of the country’s apparel exports this past year, with its members accounting for $11.2 billion alone, according to IHKIB chairman Mustafa Gültepe. Gültepe says that the industry aims to build a “partner chain” rather than serve as a traditional supply chain for apparel partners.

In the Covid-19 era and beyond, the “partner chain” distinction is key, especially as apparel brands need to rely on and trust their supply chain partners more than ever to not only ship out goods on time and dictate the right price, but also to ensure that the end consumer is ultimately satisfied with the product.

A major theme throughout the pandemic has been the ability to adapt, and part of the partner chain’s success is reliably being able to diversify the type of apparel products it can manufacture. Cem Altan, a board member for IHKIB, says that Turkey’s apparel industry is the second-biggest supplier in hosiery worldwide and is a leader in denim manufacturing. But since factories throughout the country are working with their own raw materials, the range of apparel certainly doesn’t end there, with production ongoing for T-shirts, jerseys, knitted wear, outer wear and socks, among many others.

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“This partner chain mentality puts a significant responsibility on the shoulders of the manufacturer,” Gültepe said. “The manufacturer must take full responsibility of the quality of product the apparel brand is seeking, since the brand itself ultimately is most impacted by whether the consumer is satisfied with the end garment.”

The brand and the manufacturer also must build out trust by coming to an understanding on what the common goals are for both businesses. They must be on the same page on sustainability measures, such as how to save water and promote clean air initiatives, and also how to maintain solid financial footing as well, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.

Eliminating supply chain overlaps

One common issue within apparel supply chains, particularly overseas where communication doesn’t always occur in real time, is the overlapping of certain processes, 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 the companies to increase their profitability and save their margins.”

Before 3D sampling, the sampling phase between producers and buyers lasted longer, emphasized Ismail Kolunsağ, board member of IHKIB.

“When the 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.”

Both sides also operate on a collaborative approach when it comes to design: in some cases, Turkish apparel companies already do the design for buyers and brands, which then simply choose the looks from those offered by the manufacturer. However, the buyers may also contribute their own design ideas to the apparel manufacturer, creating new collections based on the cooperative approach.

Turkey’s geographical advantage

Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey’s geographical positioning is ideal for handling a supply chain in a way that offers distinct competitive advantages. Retailers that have networks in both continents would benefit from sourcing raw materials from a region that bridges both sides, as opposed to a Belgian retailer needing all of its goods to come from Vietnam or an Israeli brand having to source materials from Germany or Italy.

Another IHKIB board member, Haldun Boz, estimates that delivery from Turkey to the U.S. market takes approximately 10 days by ship or two days by air—or slightly longer to reach the Western U.S. For nations throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, the turnaround time from Turkey is even faster. For example, supplying to Italy only takes three days by truck shipments. That’s compared to deliveries from East Asia, which normally take more than a week.

The Turkish apparel industry is already in great standing with the European Union, serving as the third-leading supplier to the group of 27 countries, with an 11 percent market share of apparel distributed. And while cotton and other raw materials are produced in Turkey, it produces the most yarn in Europe. Additionally, although the U.K. officially left the E.U. at the end of 2020, the countries extended their free trade deal that ensures tariff-free shipment arrangements.

Learn more about the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (IHKIB), their members and recent projects here.