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Turkish textiles are rich in history, dating back to the Ottoman period in the 16th and 17th centuries. Until the end of the Ottoman Empire, its economy relied heavily on the contribution of textiles. The importance of the textile industry to the Turkish economy continues today.

Turkey has often been labeled the land where "East meets West." This unique positioning, having road access to European markets, led to its rapid development in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2006, Turkey exported 44.5% of its textile products to EU countries, most notably Italy, Germany, and Romania. Outside the EU, Russia is still a significant market for Turkish apparel.

Cotton textile products, (fiber, yarn, and fabrics) constitute about 62% of total textile exports; thus emphasizing the importance of cotton not only to the Turkish textile industry but also to the Turkish economy. The Turkish industry is particularly adept at processing lightweight knitted cotton and viscose fabrics, knitted mercerized cotton, and cellulosic blends with elastane. In recent years, it has also turned its attention to technical textiles.

Turkish Textiles Today

In the May 2008 publication The Fiber Year, Oerlikon reported the Turkish economy's growth to be slowing to 5.1%1. As the industry was unable to compete with cheap yarn imports, some textile companies were forced to reduce or halt production, or diversify by joint venture in countries such as Turkmenistan in the past two years.

In 2007 total textile and apparel imports soared 47% to US$9.2 billion, while exports increased 8.5% to US$22.0 billion. This reflects rising Turkish production costs, with particular increases in labor, power, water (supply and treatment), and effluent disposal.

Of particular concern will be the expiration of Turkish Law No. 5084 at the end of 2008. This law was devised to create incentives for investment and employment in certain under-developed areas of Turkey, and the world waits to see what will be the consequence.

Major Strengths

Today's Turkish textile industry benefits from many advantages including:

  • A richness in basic raw materials
  • A ranking of sixth in the world for cotton production, and as a significant producer of synthetic and artificial fibers
  • Geographic proximity to main markets (Europe and Russia)
  • Short lead times due to geographic positioning
  • Access to a well-developed textile finishing industry
  • Access to a qualified and educated work force
  • International recognition (particularly amongst retailers) as an industry recognizing the importance of quality, the environment, and human health

These advantages have helped to make the Turkish industry a model for other countries outside Europe and the US. Textile industries in developing nations frequently inquire about Turkish practices. Their interest is focused on integration down the supply chain and improving their reputation for socially responsible practices.

The emphasis on social awareness is especially important in Turkey's development as a leader in organic cotton production (begun in the 1980s and gathering momentum ever since) thus providing a role model for developing economies.