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Turkey's design capabilities

In addition to garment manufacturing, Turkish suppliers are building their design skills.

On a whirlwind tour of Istanbul manufacturers, it is clear that beyond the buzz of noise coming out of the factories – whether garments being washed for dying or trousers being stitched – there is much more going on than the mechanical production of clothes. A key part of these vertically integrated Turkish manufacturers is the design of clothes for brands.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, Turkey has evolved to house design departments in its factories,” says Cem Altan, board member of Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (İHKİB) and managing director of jersey garment manufacturer Aycem Tekstil, which is based in the Turkish capital. “It’s now a very important part of the manufacturing make-up. Customers come to visit factories to see their collections and choose what they want.

“Most factories will have designers in the UK who keep abreast of the latest fashions and keep up to date with English culture. While some brands have their own designers, stores like Next and Debenhams will choose from our collection and will say: ‘Can you change this or adjust this?’” explains Altan, who adds that his factory employs designers in London.

He says this layer of design capabilities gives brands added value: “This way of working saves brands huge amounts of time and money. Here they have another design department. Previously they weren’t always capable of producing so many designs – now they have access to thousands of designs. It’s really helpful.”

The first factory we visit is jersey manufacturer Talu Tekstil in Yenibosna in Istanbul. Housed in a white building with the Turkish flag hanging on a pole outside, Talu Tekstil manufactures more than 4 million garments every year across products such as T-shirts, dresses and sportswear for brands including Dorothy Perkins, Debenhams and Superdry.

In an office filled with trophies the factory has won for its garment production, including a speed-to-market award from Marks & Spencer and a vendor of the year award from Timberland, I meet Mustafa Gültepe, vice-president of İHKİB and general director of Talu Tekstil. He  explains  that his company employs 25 designers in the factory and in England to create garments for brands. The process often starts with brands sending over digital mood boards for the forthcoming season, featuring a range of fabrics, styles and colours.

“They’ll say they want this kind of look,” he says. “Then our designers try to design similar garments and collections on the back of it.”

Talu Tekstil’s showroom is filled with menswear products from brands such as Lacoste and Superdry. It is the place brands visit to choose the styles and fabrics.

In the design room, the team are working against the backdrop of busy sewing machines – one machinist is adding a zip on a black Replay hoodie.

“I try to understand a brand’s style by the mood boards they send us, but I also check the websites of the brand and Pinterest for spotting new trends,” designer Selay Güleç tells me. “Today I’m sketching – trying to find something for our customers and then I change it according to the brand.” She says she is working on some designs for a UK supermarket brand that wants a particular style but at a cheaper cost: “They’ve sent us a style for inspiration and we’re trying to make this simpler for spring 17.”

She says they make up small quantities of garments: “Around 40 to 50 pieces [for brands] – kind of samples – which we’ll have ready for them in five to seven days. We’ll either send them or, if they have a meeting, one of us will go to the meeting and show what we did for them.”

family-owned Özak Tekstil, which specialises in denim for brands such as Sandro, Maje, Marks & Spencer and Hugo Boss, has a dedicated design team of 10. The company’s three plants and 2,200 staff produce clothes from the factory to the shop floor within four to six weeks.

“Some brands have their own design team, but sometimes they want the manufacturer’s design team to come up with their own ideas,” says the factory’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) manager Koral Ersin. “Our design team are really experienced. They go on store visits, and they follow the latest trends in magazines and websites to find new innovations and inspiration. Some customers send us a prototype of a garment and ask us to make a sample. Some brands just send their designers here and spend time with the design team.”

The showroom features the latest collection of denim – mainly jeans in a variety of styles. “Designers will take a style and show it to a brand and some will say they like it as it is or they might ask for a change,” explains Ersin. We pop our heads in the pattern room, where staff are moving patterns around on screen before they are sent to the cutter, and pass the washing department and quality control where products are rigorously checked. I meet the design team in a room that houses boxes of garments ready to be shipped to retailers.

“We see things very early,” says the factory’s head of design, Özlem Tüfekçioğlu, when I ask her why Turkish design seems to be so popular. “I push the companies and brands [to try this new trend] because I believe it will be good, but it’s only when, say, Gucci etc have it, that they say: ‘Can you do this?’ I would have already showed them it two seasons before, but they weren’t interested.

“I’ll find inspiration everywhere – even in make-up, for example, there might be an effect that you could use in fashion,” says Tüfekçioğlu. She says brands send the design or sales team some information for the season, like a mood board, and sometimes send their own models: “We look at all the details. The first step is that we prepare our boards, then we choose the fabrics and all the details with the washing department and, after three months, we finish the collection. The collection production takes one and a half months.”

However, Tüfekçioğlu says there are pitfalls to being a leader in design: “Sometimes they take our models and share the ideas with other manufacturers in other countries. Sometimes it’s expensive in Turkey [so they choose a cheaper option]. I see the garments in the shops, and I see this is our model, but not from Turkey.”

Outside Istanbul, in Tekirdag, we visit hosiery and socks factory Bony Çorap, whose clients include M&S, Zara, Timberland and Tesco’s F&F. It produces 80 million pairs of socks a year.

Gliding past the large pictures of retro socks lining the staircase, Bony Çorap export manager Sencer Bahalı tells me: “Here we have nine designers working on what will be the next trends.” We visit the showroom, where there are hundreds of pairs of socks, from tights to pop socks in metallic shades, and a mood board for spring 17.

“This is what we believe will be selling in the future,” he says, pointing at the mood board. “Brands will discuss with us what we believe will be big in the season and get ideas from us.”

Whether brands are on the hunt for a whole new collection or need some assistance in adding value to a couple of one-off designs, Turkish manufacturers are ready to help.


A stamp of approval

In Avcılar in Istanbul, staff wearing white overalls and goggles are dropping chemicals into test tubes. Ekoteks is a non-profit laboratory that provides the Turkish manufacturing industry with reliable test results on the quality of fabric, based on international and client requirements.

Founded in 1998 with the support of the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association (İHKİB), the company works on brands such as H&M, Marks & Spencer, Arcadia and Debenhams, and tests more than 100,000 products every year.“It was set upto bring down the competition across independent laboratories,” says Cem Altan, board member of İHKİB and managing directorof Istanbul-based jersey garment manufacturerAycem Tekstil.

“It was very expensive totest fabrics and customers kept asking factories if they could bring prices down. A factory might have to test at least 100 styles and fabrics every month, and,if you have four colours as well, it’s very expensive. So we thought that by setting up Ekoteks we could controlthe market.”

On a tour of the laboratory, Drapers finds staff inspecting different fabrics against robust checklists from brands. In the fibre-analysis lab, employees measure the fabrics to determine the percentage offibres such aswool or polyester they contain.

Staff perform tests on everything from water resistance and pilling to flexibility and wear. They also perform strength and safety tests on buttons and studs.

One of the growing areas within Ekoteks is testing for materials with antibacterial properties as retailers invest more heavily in this area.

“Our mission is price and speed,” says head of Ekoteks Nilgün Özdemir. “Each brand tells us  which test they hope to pass and we put the results on an online system, so the manufacturers can send it to their client. Within three days we do the testing. If they fail, they then liaise with the brand to see if they want to try again.”

It is a stamp of approval that both retailers and manufacturers need as theymove through the supply chain.

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