In the aftermath of earthquakes, Türkiye’s textile industry calls on brands for support #725


Three months on from the most powerful earthquake in its history, Türkiye is still feeling the impacts on fashion production, a key lifeline for its export economy. Suppliers say emotional support, flexible contracts and consistent orders are the best way for brands to help.

On 6 February, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck near Gaziantep in southern Türkiye. Just nine hours later, as residents scrambled to locate their loved ones and rescue peers from the rubble, a second, 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit 95 kilometres southwest. The first earthquake matched the most powerful shock in the earthquake-prone country’s history. Together, the earthquakes have killed more than 50,000 peopledisplaced more than 3 million, and left close to 10 million people in need of urgent aid. Many are still missing and unaccounted for.

The affected area included a production hub that dates back to the Ottoman Empire for textiles and apparel, of which Türkiye is the sixth-largest supplier globally and the third-largest in Europe, according to the country’s Ministry of Trade.

The earthquakes had a ripple effect across the local textile industry. Recycled yarn and fibre producer Gama Iplik — whose brand partners include Nike, Puma and H&M — has four factories in Türkiye, two of which are located in Gaziantep and were affected by the earthquake, with distribution facilities, transportation routes and labour force impacted, according to business development director Eren Erkan. Kipaş Tekstil, owned by Kipaş Holding, has an annual production capacity of 100 million metres of fabric, and employs 5,700 people. According to a video Kipaş produced for denim trade show Kingpins, the earthquakes resulted in economic losses of $1 million in the region. It says over 900 workplaces were heavily damaged, 232 buildings were demolished, and around 100,000 members of the local workforce — which totalled 174,000 in December 2022 — remain missing.

Several facilities had to shut temporarily because of building damage, while others closed indefinitely — Gama Iplik closed for one week, during which time it housed 300-400 displaced people. Damaged roads and lost trucks extended delivery times and increased prices, disruption that was passed onto brand customers. Many companies have had to find other routes. For Gama Iplik, which exports to more than 30 other countries, this meant switching exports from Hatay Port — just 200 kilometres away — to Mersin Port — 300 kilometres away. “This is an extra cost, and takes longer because the functioning ports are so busy since the earthquakes,” says Erkan.

Erkan says Gama Iplik’s brand partners have not offered direct support, but they have been flexible and understanding of delays. This is all that most suppliers in the region have been hoping for, as rumours have swirled about brands cancelling orders, asking for lower prices and moving their business elsewhere.

In March, the Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association (IHKIB) issued a statement to international partners, calling for brands and retailers to continue placing orders in Türkiye. According to IHKIB, apparel exports from the affected region represent $565 million, 2.6 per cent of Türkiye’s total apparel exports (the majority is concentrated in and around Istanbul). Textiles produced in the region accounted for 30 per cent of the country’s total textile exports in 2022, with a value of $3.4 billion.

For brands and retailers sourcing from the region, the earthquakes were a stark wake-up call that climate disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, leaving the fashion supply chain vulnerable to their effects. Experts say the disaster is also a reminder of the lessons learned during Covid-19, when brands cancelled orders, postponed payments and left suppliers in the lurch during a time of need. They argue that strong supplier relationships are vital to ensuring an environmentally, financially and socially sustainable future for the fashion industry, and brands have a duty of care to the people in their supply chains that cannot be abandoned in times of crisis.

“When supply chains are disrupted, transactional brands cancel orders and vanish to another production country, but relational brands support suppliers and their workers emotionally, which results in loyalty,” says Dr Hakan Karaosman, the Turkish co-founder of the EU-funded research centre Fashion’s Responsible Supply Chain Hub (FReSCH) and assistant professor at Cardiff University. “We’re not talking about millions of euros or anything complicated — brands just need to provide emotional support to the people experiencing trauma, and keep orders constant so they can recover financially.”

Damage to production facilities has been limited, IKHIB president Mustafa Gültepe says, owing to recent investments in the region by both local suppliers and foreign players, resulting in relatively new and robust buildings. “The real risk for apparel production is not related to the loss of production facilities, but rather the loss of employers who want to leave the region,” he adds. Unofficial figures for February show a 1.8 per cent drop in exports, as the industry focused on recovery for the first three weeks of the month.

How should brands respond in times of crisis?

Open Supply Hub, an open-source platform mapping thousands of garment manufacturing facilities across more than 130 countries, uses supplier lists submitted by brands directly, or those brands upload to their websites to track damage and disruption. As of February 2023, Open Supply Hub shows that there were 13,000 production facilities in the area affected by earthquakes. Of these, 9,438 covered apparel, textiles, home textiles, footwear, leather and apparel accessories. When combined with earthquake intensity data from the US Geological Survey’s Earthquakes Hazards Programme, it shows that 8,240 experienced a Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (MMI) of 7.5 or above, including 107 with an MMI of 8 or above.

According to Open Supply Hub, the brands with the most suppliers in the affected area included Mango, Boohoo, Benetton Group, Asos and Inditex. Several multi-stakeholder groups also had high rates of suppliers listed, including the ZDHC Foundation, Higg, Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, Better Cotton Initiative, Fair Wear Foundation and Fairtrade. In the immediate aftermath — within two days of the earthquakes — H&M Group said in a statement that it would contribute $100,000 to Türkiye’s disaster and emergency management presidency (AFAD), $250,000 to the Red Crescent, and $250,000 to Save the Children. And fellow fast fashion giant Inditex committed €3 million to the Red Crescent, and 500,000 outerwear products to be distributed by the Red Crescent and AFAD.

Local fashion businesses also made donations, taking a more active role in delivering blankets, clothing and even generators and electrical heaters to the affected communities.

Turkish suppliers say flexibility and consistency are key. Orta Anadolu is one of Türkiye’s leading denim producers, working with global brands from Levi’s, Ganni and Frame, to PVH, Acne and Citizens of Humanity. Its manufacturing facility in Kayseri felt the earthquake, but avoided damage and was able to continue production the same day. For the first week, many of its 1,200 workers pivoted to donation efforts for people more directly affected, and those with alternative accommodation outside of the city’s high rise apartment blocks moved away temporarily. “In the beginning, we were worried brands would move out of Türkiye because of the earthquake risk, but our brand partners have been calm and understanding,” says sustainability director Sedef Uncu Aki.

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