Check out any one item of clothing you’re wearing right now. Your shirt, your pants or anything else with a label will do. Now, without looking at the label, do you know if this item of clothing is made from cotton, polyester or something else? Don’t worry if you don’t know – most people don’t.
While you might not think a lot about fabric, you do come in contact with it every day, usually all day long, with different fabrics surrounding you at night. Fabric isn’t just keeping you warm and fashionable. It’s also the lifeblood of the entire fashion industry. It is, literally, the fabric that holds the entire industry together.
Let’s go back to that item of clothing you’re wearing. While you probably know what store your shirt came from, do you know where it was actually made? The answer usually depends on what the item is. Fashion has always been a particularly global enterprise. If you’re looking for stylish, modern women’s fashions, Paris, France, is the place to be. If you’re interested in classic men’s styles, you’ll be looking along Savile Row in London, England. Milan, Italy, is your home for casual elegance. And New York and Los Angeles are your source for America’s fashions. But what about the cotton, polyester and other textiles which make up these fashions? Would it surprise you to learn it might just be from… Turkey?
The country of Turkey isn’t just ready to roll, it’s ready to sew. This European country has quietly been working hard, and is now the number one apparel sourcing nation in the European Union. Turkey’s Apparel and Textile industry has been a powerful engine for Turkey’s economy, roughly 10% of the entire GDP, and now the country is looking to expand that success by expanding exports to as many countries as possible.
Turkey’s status as the reigning champ of cloth has been in the making for decades now. The entire country began industrialization efforts in the 60’s, when great effort was put towards revitalizing their entire textile industry. At first, the industry was limited to small workshops. But as the 1960’s turned into the 1970’s, production improved in leaps and bounds. Soon, Turkey was exporting their wares to other countries. Starting in 1980, Turkey stopped importing textile machinery, and started in-country production of low and mid- level machinery. Today, they produce a huge variety of quality textile machines, and they’re also one of the most important clothing exporters in the world.
Three key factors as to why Turkey has found such success as an apparel sourcing nation are its:
- Low labor costs
- Qualified workforce
- Relatively cheap materials
With over four million people employed, the Turkey textile industry is worth $20 billion. Almost 60% of its textiles are exported, making the country one of the top ten producers of wool and polyester in the entire world. So even if your clothing item wasn’t made in Turkey, it’s very likely the polyester it’s made from was. Not made of polyester, you say? Your item of clothing is made of cotton, you say? (Oh, by the way, you can look at that label now.)
There’s a very good chance that cotton came from Turkey, too. Turkey is the seventh largest cotton producer around the globe. Not only do they export this cotton, they also increasingly use it themselves to produce clothing. Exporting ready-to-wear clothing is better for Turkey financially compared to exporting just the cotton.
The United States, Russia and Germany are some of the main recipients of all of these textile exports. But there are other major players with is comes to apparel sourcing, such as China.
In 2005, a decades old quote system on Chinese exports expired. This has led to an increase in China’s textile exports. With their massive population, and relatively loose laws related to production, China has a massive workforce able to work long hours in order to make a lot of textiles for export.
This has affected apparel sourcing across the globe, including in Turkey. They weren’t able to compete on a production level as they would have liked. All of their progress over the decades was threating to come undone.
Recently, however, Turkey’s textile industry has shown surprising new life. After all, Turkey once took what was basically a non-existent textile industry in the 60s and turned it into one of the greatest in the world in just four decades, so it’s never wise to count them out.
Since Turkey is a European country, it was able to easily adapt into European standards as they relate to product quality, environmental regulations and worker safety, issues which are sometimes an area of concern in Chinese textile plants. As China has started producing lots of lower quality textiles and apparel, Turkey has repositioned itself as makers of some of the world’s finest textiles. Apparel sourcing has shifted to emphasize a new focus on quality. People have made clothing in Turkey for several generations now, and they want the world to know how good they are at it. The “Made in Turkey” label is achieving recognition around the world as the sign of quality apparel.
When you go shopping for clothes, you have options from all around the world. The global textile and fashion economy means most clothes are likely to be more well-traveled then the average wearer. It can be confusing. While you want a good price on your clothes – and that’s the rationale behind textile globalization – you also want a quality product.
“Made in Turkey” might be just the perfect label for the American clothes shopper. They have the best equipment, easy access to cheap and high quality cottons and polyesters, and their citizens are some of the finest clothing artisans in the world. The next time you go shopping, you just might be surprised what you look for when you look at the label.