Buying and sourcing in Turkey


Speed to market, a vertical supply chain and strong relationships make Turkey a prime sourcing location.


Whether we like it or not, we live in a fast fashion era. The "see now, buy now, wear now" mentality has almost become a normal part of modern British consumer behaviour. High street brands such as H&M, Zara and Topshop have turbo-charged this psyche, enabling shoppers to get their hands on fashion trends soon after they have appeared on the catwalk.

One of the countries at the forefront of this disruption to the fashion industry is Turkey, whose factories have been manufacturing clothes for high street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Karen Millen and Asda's George for many years. The Turkish economy is heavily dependent on the fashion industry. Market research firm Euromonitor reports that textiles accounted for the greatest share (18.5%) of total goods exported from Turkey in 2015. In monetary terms, the value of clothing exported reached $16.8bn (£13.4bn) in 2015, figures from the Turkish Ministry of Economy show.

Although the country has faced political upheaval and has been subject to the terrorist activities that are affecting many countries across the world, its focus on supplying fashion to Britain and further afield shows no sign of abating.

"Turkey is a crucial market for many UK fashion brands and retailers, whose fast-track and capsule collections are dependent on very short lead times and high flexibility from suppliers and factories," explains Peter Rinnebach, senior manager at global consultancy firm Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy.

Although more expensive than heir counterparts in Asia, Turkish manufacturers can offer faster delivery times and the flexibility to repeat in season. Asia cannot compete with Turkey's close proximity to the UK, which allows buyers to quickly make repeat orders on products that are flying off the rails or to quickly make changes – for example, trying a new pattern or a new colourway – to existing designs.

"While Turkey has a higher level of production costs compared with typical Far East sourcing destinations, it does offer a favourable exchange rate," adds Stephen Taylor, senior manager at Kurt Salmon. "Overall, the higher production cost in Turkey compared with the Far East can be levelled out by the benefits of shorter timelines and faster reactivity to market developments."

This is echoed by Cem Altan, board member of textile industry body Istanbul Apparel Exporters' Association and managing director of Istanbul-based jersey garment manufacturer Aycem Tekstil: "With Turkey, brands don't have to order big quantities that they need to keep in the stock cupboard," he says. "Brands can make small orders and repeat on styles. They don't have to carry extra stock. They don't have to commit, so instead of ordering 20,000 pieces of a garment they can try 5,000 instead."

And product can be turned around quickly, he adds: "Orders can be placed and samples can be received five to seven days later."

Quick turnaround is one of the reasons etailer Asos has been manufacturing its own label in Turkey for 10 years, soon after the publicly listed company launched its own-label products.

"The key factor to sourcing from Turkey is speed to market," says Asos sourcing director Simon Platts. "The ability to place small through to larger-scale orders gives flexibility, and the ability to trial new products and trends, and be quick to market with these."

There are other advantages, explains Karen Millen production director Fay Tear: "Speed to market is absolutely an advantage, but we plan our collections up to nine months in advance of delivery, thus all the Far Eastern and European product gets delivered together for the relevant package or retail month."

"But if and when we repeat, a denim supplier, for example, is able to get product into stores much quicker than the Far East and the current exchange rates means they are very competitive at present."

Furthermore, Turkey offers a well-developed supply chain, meaning buyers can find most of the fabrics, washing and embellishment needed for their garment requirements within the country, well known for its established textiles and fashion clothing manufacturing industry.

"Turkey can offer customers vertical manufacturing capability, which makes a real difference in delivery times," says Kurt Salmon's Rinnebach. "In addition to garment production, it has a strong heritage in textiles – it remains a top 10 producer of cotton, wool and polyester – and has fabric and knit production and finishing capability." Breaking it down, Turkey exported $8.9bn knitted garments in 2015, $5.9bn in woven ready-wear and $1.9bn in ready-made clothing, figures from the Ministry of Economy indicate.

Platts says that over the past five years Asos has increasingly sourced a wider range of products in Turkey, leading to growth in the overall percentage of its production in the country. The retailer manufactures a range of clothing from basic jersey through to heavily embellished denim-washed products in and around Istanbul.

Its ability to produce a diverse range of products is one of the advantages of manufacturing there, says Platt: "The production capabilities are wide and the ability to understand and accommodate garments requiring quality and high fashion content are plentiful. There are manufacturers for denim, jersey, knitwear, tailoring, outerwear, swimwear, underwear, lingerie and many accessory types, including bags. It also has the specialist capabilities the supply base offers, with washing, embellishment and printing being key."

As Turkish manufacturers are capable of producing a wide range of textiles and finishes, everything for garment production can be produced in the one country, providing a smoother and easier sourcing journey.

"You don't need to import from other countries," says Altan, who champions the quality it offers compared with other regions. "The Far East has a completely different offer. It's a cheap market – here we offer value-added garments. The quality is better than the Far East. And we have reliable factories and deliver on time and deliver quality."

Karen Millen, which has a longstanding relationship of almost 20 years with Turkey, produces around 30% of its European clothing in the country. Turkish product is focused on tailoring, denim and a small amount of leather, Tear explains: "For tailoring, they have a very good tailored 'handwriting', which gives Karen Millen the clean, stamped-out, structured look. Our tailoring factories are CMT [cut, make, trim] which means we provide the patterns, fabric and trims, all the development work is completed here at Paul Street [Karen Millen's headquarters in London], and they manufacture the product. For the denim, they have good Turkish denim mills, which give us premium denim."

Turkey not only offers a good-quality workforce, but it is also attractive for buyers geographically.

"Turkey is close to the UK and other European countries," says Altan. "You can fly to Turkey and do business in the same day."

Tear says producing in Turkey enables the team to visit regularly for relatively little cost: "Our roving QC [quality control executives] will visit the factories on a regular basis to ensure the production is maintained to the Karen Millen quality standards and ensure there aren't any production issues. It is easy to jump on a plane and visit each supplier to resolve the issue quickly and productively."

As well as being a close hub to the UK, many talk of a close relationship between Turkish manufacturers and brands.

"If they ask us to stock a fabric for them, if they want a different colour, we will quickly dye it and send it in three weeks' time so it's ready for the shop floor," explains Altan.

Taylor also believes the country enforces strict controls when it comes to what it is producing: "Turkey takes a proactive stance on environmental concerns in the supply chain," says Taylor. "It is one of the few countries to mandate all textile manufacturers to comply with internationally accepted environmental standards, which is another plus."

The industry also asserts that its record on corporate social responsibility is improving (see Q&A, below).

Karen Millen works closely with its four Istanbul-based suppliers, as Tear explains: "Our suppliers are an extension of our brand and we believe in working in partnership with them, so most of our relationships are direct with the suppliers and not through sourcing offices.

"The design, product development and technical team will liaise daily with the suppliers. The teams that have suppliers in the Far East will visit twice a year, but our European visits are much more frequent."

She says the Karen Millen design team will visit Turkey for "development and inspiration" trips, and the product development teams will

go to discuss deliveries, prices and production planning. In addition, the technical teams

will visit suppliers to support the development process or review production as pieces are being manufactured.

The best part of her job is visiting the suppliers, she says: "I love standing in the middle of a factory with the buzz of the machines, seeing the product coming to life before your eyes."

Platts also talks of working very closely with suppliers and manufacturers in Turkey. He says regular communications are vital to make sure the speed producing in Turkey can offer is maximised: "Planning is critical and visibility around where the Asos products are made is paramount."

Tear believes the key to working well in Turkey is communication and speed: "Building long-term strategic relationships, and planning and commitment are crucial to maximise the potential Turkey production offers.

"As with any successful working relationship, it is very much about having a two-way partnership with clear communication.

"In recent times it's been difficult for UK buyers to visit Turkey for security reasons, but face-to-face time via video tech and visits to the UK by our Turkish partner suppliers have kept the communication channels open."