In 2021, the Turkish textile industry reached an all-time mark: $12.9 billion in exports, with more than 200 countries and regions around the world covered.
Ahmet Oksuz, head of the Istanbul Textile and Raw Materials Exporters' Association, recently said that exports are expected to increase to $15 billion in 2022.
Speaking to the media about the achievements of Turkish producers and entrepreneurs, he highlighted that the exports to the US alone have steadily increased over the past three years and by the end of this year, it will have reached over $1 billion.
The United States is one of the world leaders in the production and export of textile raw materials, fabrics, yarn, garments, homeware, and other textile products. Therefore, mastering the competitive US market is seen as a great achievement for Turkish companies. According to an influential market study by Statista, as early as 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Türkiye surpassed the US in global apparel exports.
More than 40,000 firms and about 4 million people employed in the textile industry contributed to this breakthrough.
What was the path to success for the Turkish light industry?
From the Ottomans to the Republic
The development of the Turkish light industry began during the Ottoman Empire. Exquisite handmade oriental carpets have always been in great demand all over the world.
In the middle of the 19th century, demand for Turkish carpets from the middle class in Europe and the US stimulated the development of artisanal workshops where machine spinning was used. This innovation led to a jump in productivity, a decrease in production costs, and an increase in the competitiveness of Turkish goods in the world market.
In addition to traditional carpets, factory production covered wool and cotton products, dyes and finished fabrics, and then clothing. By 1870 the factories of Ottoman Türkiye had produced more than one million metres of woollen fabrics and clothing made from them.
World War I and the weakening and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire caused great damage to the Turkish economy and light industry. After the war for Turkish independence, textiles became the main import item for Türkiye according to the Lausanne Agreement (1923), which forbade the imposition of duties on imported goods.
However, the Great Depression of 1929-1939 ended commodity dependence and the "Goods for Raw Materials" policy. The Turkish government, relying on its own budget and loans, embarked on a plan to develop its own light industry on the basis of industrial crops, especially cotton.
In 1933, the government organised the Symerbank, which lent to the construction of state-owned spinning and weaving mills. This contributed to a 60 percent increase in light industry production. In the following decades (1940-50), the Turkish government stimulated the development of the entire private sector by raising import duties on light industrial goods, providing a credit program for entrepreneurs, and introducing other measures.
Receiving loans from the World Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the IMF, in 1979 Ankara set out to create its own brands of clothing and move light manufacturing plants to the southeast of the country with less expensive labour. As a result, exports of Turkish-made clothing abroad increased dramatically. In 1995, it accounted for about a third (29 percent) of the country's total exports.
In the 1990s, Türkiye accounted for 3-4 percent of the entire global clothing market. It became one of the six largest clothing exporters in the world and ranked among the top ten world textile leaders in terms of yarn and textile production.
Today, Türkiye is one of the leading countries with a developed textile industry. Ranked 1st in Europe in terms of cotton production, the Turkish light industry has no problems with raw materials, making the country one of the leaders in textile production.
Displacing China and conquering Europe
Leading EU brands, in an attempt to consciously refuse to do business with China, have begun to place more orders with Turkish companies. This desire has been particularly exacerbated by the problems associated with Xinjiang and the cultivation of cotton using forced labour.
In addition, because of the coronavirus pandemic, European companies prefer geographically close Türkiye with its own cotton production. As a result, Europe is the main export market for Türkiye's textile industry (50 percent) now, and three countries - Germany, Britain, and Spain - are the main consumers of its products.
In terms of quality, Turkish fabrics are as good as Italian and German. However, Turkish products are cheaper than European ones. This is due not only to the fact that the country does not depend on imported raw materials but also to the presence of holding companies, uniting many Turkish manufacturers. For example, the famous Turkish clothing brand Colin's is part of Eroglu Holding, which, in addition to textiles, is engaged in the real estate and retail trade.
Another successful story of the brand is the purchase of the French brand LC Waikiki by the Taha group. Having become a Turkish brand, LC Waikiki got a new lease of life. With markets in 38 countries, the company with the motto "Everyone has the right to dress well" offers its customers inexpensive but high-quality clothes.
However, not all Turkish products are represented by budget goods. Many companies have moved into a more expensive price segment. For example, Mavi entered the list of the world's leading brands of premium denim clothing. Its target audience is young people who prefer luxury clothes.
British Time magazine named Mavi the first Turkish brand to go international, and international top models such as Romy Strayed, Barbara Palvin, and Adriana Lima ("angels" of Victoria's Secret) became the face of the company.
Tac, Yatas, Ozdilek, English home and Altinbasak linen companies became very popular around the world, too.
Another vanguard of the Turkish light industry is carpet weaving. It is one of the earliest traditional arts in Türkiye, and for centuries the country has produced a large number of carpets for the world. Famous examples of Turkish weaving date back to the period of the Seljuk warrior dynasty, but it reached its peak during the Ottoman period.
The incredible popularity of carpets from the Ottoman state was even depicted by Renaissance artists: in the works of Hans Holbein the Younger, Lorenzo Lotto, and other famous artists.
During the Ottoman reigns, the workshops in Ushak, where the delightful carpets for the Turkish court nobility were woven, were famous all over the world. Among the antique examples, one can often find Ushak carpets with side-lines densely packed with images of elegant arabesques.
Today, 99 percent of all carpets in Türkiye are handmade, mostly by women in their homes or factories. The country's income from carpet exports in 2021 was $3.45 billion. Türkiye ranks first in the world in carpet exports.
The Turkish light industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. Its products are produced in highly technical factories with qualified personnel, and the products of the Turkish light industry are competitive products that occupy significant niches in the world markets.
The textile and garment industry with the "Made in Turkiye" label is able to compete in international markets and is likely to reach new heights in the future.