Magazine article International Trade Forum

"Yellow Jersey" for Kazakh Firm: An ITC Project Manager's Enthusiasm for Cycling Led to a Historic Link between ASSOS, One of the Biggest Names in Cyclists' Clothing, and Textiline, a Small, Service-Oriented Kazakh Company. Together, They Established the World's First Line of "After-Bike" Wear

Magazine article International Trade Forum

"Yellow Jersey" for Kazakh Firm: An ITC Project Manager's Enthusiasm for Cycling Led to a Historic Link between ASSOS, One of the Biggest Names in Cyclists' Clothing, and Textiline, a Small, Service-Oriented Kazakh Company. Together, They Established the World's First Line of "After-Bike" Wear

Article excerpt

Kazakhstan has a long history in the textile business and, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, it produced textiles and apparel for the whole country. In the 1990s, the former Soviet republic's industry was privatized, but needed assistance to be able to compete in world markets.

The ASSOS--Textiline deal is part of a larger ITC initiative, financed by the Swiss Government and the United Nations Development Programme, that has helped Kazakh clothing manufacturers become successful exporters.

In 2000, as part of a project to make contacts between Western buyers and Kazakh manufacturers, an ITC project manager, who is an avid cyclist, decided to contact the Swiss firm ASSOS, which produced his favourite brand of sportswear for cyclists. ASSOS was founded 30 years ago to bring avant-garde technologies and innovative engineering to the world of cycling. For example, it invented the first Lycra cycling short in 1977. Cyclists using ASSOS products have won more than 200 gold medals at Olympic Games, world championships and other professional cycling races, and have frequently worn the coveted "yellow jersey", a T-shirt presented to the current overall leader of many bicycle races.

Need to build confidence

ITC initially brought a delegation of top Kazakh clothing manufacturers to meet with possible European clients, but ASSOS was sceptical. It was not convinced of the idea of linking with a Kazakh company and was particularly doubtful about whether a Kazakh company could match its quality standards and technology, and about the prospects for producing its range of apparel in Kazakhstan from a marketing standpoint.

And Textiline, like many other Kazakh companies, had its doubts about exporting. The company was trying to succeed in a domestic market dominated by inexpensive Chinese imports, and it had no experience selling abroad.

Gaining skills

A combination of training and marketing missions to Europe, organized by ITC, helped to bolster Textiline's export abilities and confidence. Textiline learned how to develop presentation techniques and marketing skills, and about market requirements such as packaging, labelling and environmental standards. This gave the company the confidence to approach demanding foreign markets.

It was its first marketing mission that jump-started Textiline's understanding of how to succeed abroad.

By visiting leading European textile and clothing companies, and by gaining some experience with Europe's highly competitive garment markets, Textiline officials realized how important proper management, marketing and networking can be in creating long-lasting business relationships. The Kazakh company also began to understand where it fitted into the market in terms of price, quality and fashion.

"We can sew, but we cannot sell" was the conclusion the company came to after the first mission. As a result, it requested additional technical assistance to improve its marketing.

The company also realized that making clothes well--an achievement in itself--was not enough to compete as a supplier. It therefore improved its design capabilities and created a new collection aimed at the international market, while addressing the sourcing of materials and improving skills at the enterprise level.

At the company's second marketing mission, buyers found the workmanship of the new samples to be excellent and other aspects--design, fashion levels, fabrics and presentation--acceptable.

The ITC project helped improve Textiline's performance, and the company's experience with international markets spurred the development of an entrepreneurial spirit.

Service mentality pays off

As it happened, this change in mentality, plus Textiline's meeting with ASSOS, was an advantage when ASSOS became the Swiss Cycling Federation's official technical supplier.

Under the contract with the Federation, ASSOS had to produce leisure apparel. …

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