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Syrian textile manufacturers come together to revive their war-devastated industry

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2014-02-03 10:30:00 – Beirut

Syrian textile and garment manufacturers have decided to come together and work to revive their war-devastated industry. Textiles had been a keystone in the Syrian export economy in the years leading up to the crisis, as part of efforts to diversify the country’s economy away from oil. But three years of conflict in the country has cost the industry dearly.

Manufacturers, trade associations and international buyers are meeting in Beirut for a three-day trade fair, the Syrian Fashion Fair, at the Phoenicia Hotel where they hope to secure in $70 million in new export deals for children’s wear and lingerie.

Destruction and theft have forced the closure of many manufacturing facilities, particularly in the commercial center of Aleppo province, where most were located and which has been the scene of intense fighting. Interruptions to transport, logistics, electricity and water supply have also affected production and added to costs.

According to the vice president of the Syrian Garments and Textiles Exporters Association, Firas Takialdine, around 70 percent of production facilities have been destroyed or are now nonoperational. While talking at the fair on Sunday, Takialdine said that there is a shortage of cotton because of damage to agriculture; there has been damage and theft and interruptions to transport as a result of the war. But, by working together, relocating and exploring creative logistical alternatives, textile manufacturers are optimistic that they can “rise again from the ashes.”

While many textiles manufactures have moved to Egypt and Turkey, others are choosing to downsize and relocate to safe areas in Damascus, finding conditions more favorable than abroad.

Sponsored by the association, along with the Export Development and Promotion Agency, the Syrian Exporters Federation and the private Islamic Cham Bank, the fair, which opened Saturday, is the second to be held in Beirut. The first fair in mid-September 2013 secured $50 million in trade deals with mainly Gulf and Libyan customers. Capitalizing on that momentum, the aim is to secure over $70 million in sales this time.

The manufacturers, by working together, have managed to overcome the main obstacles. They were encouraged to rebuild in a new way to keep up with the changing situation. Libya and other markets don’t have good alternatives other than Syrian goods, especially children’s wear and lingerie.

And while transport and logistics challenges have driven up costs, other consequences of the war have been exploited to the industry’s benefit.

The decrease in the value of the Syrian pound has made products highly competitive and labor cheaper. The cancellation of the Turkish Free Trade Agreement in 2012 means Syrian manufacturers are no longer competing with cheaper and often higher quality Turkish imports, manufacturers and economists said.

At the trade fair Sunday, that was on full display. Lingerie and night-wear manufacturer Mauhannad Dadoush, based in Damascus, said that he had been forced to find new solutions for a range of problems over the last two years but that, so far, none of his products had failed to reach his clients.

Dadoush said that his workers were afraid to leave and go home at the end of the day, in case the security situation meant they couldn’t get back and would lose a day’s work. So he has come up with a solution by preparing a space for them to sleep in the factory, and they return home to their wives and families on the weekends.

Mohammad Aiman Qasem, Kuwaiti buyer and manager of the Qasem lingerie retail chain, said his relationship with his Syrian supplier had continued for 20 years and had been uninterrupted by the crisis. They managed to get their products without delay. He is amazed by this fact.

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