Buyers from fashion retailers and brands including Topshop, Monsoon, Triumph and Whistles are among industry executives visiting Macedonia this week to look at opportunities to incorporate local apparel firms into their sourcing networks.

The delegation is part of the first Macedonia-EU apparel business to business event organised by the Macedonia Competitiveness Project, which aims to help the country become more competitive in the global economy.

Assisting Macedonia's apparel companies to "access new and higher value export markets in the EU" is key, according to Michael Fritz, mission director at US development agency USAID, which funds the Macedonia Competitiveness Project.

Speaking at the event's launch earlier today (2 March) in the capital Skopje, he pointed out that increasing exports will also help to retain - and create - industry jobs.

Hand-in-hand with their goal of moving into new markets, many local apparel companies are also taking steps up the value chain.

"The Macedonian apparel industry is moving away from CMT (cut, make and trim) towards the production of value added apparel products," confirms Natasa Sivevska, executive director of the Textile Trade Association.

"This B2B event, bringing new potential buyers from the UK and other countries, is a catalyst for the transition towards full package production," she adds.

With a long history in apparel manufacturing, Macedonian makers have for many years supplied major brands and retailers across Europe with products ranging from tailored jackets and coats to skirts, pants blouses and shirts.

The country's proximity in south east Europe means it is well-placed for fast turnaround - delivery to the UK takes as little as three days - and is close to fabric producers in Turkey and Italy.

The industry also offers low production costs, the flexibility to produce small orders, and high quality levels.

Firms have also risen to the challenge of the changing apparel environment by expanding fabric and trim supply networks, improving pattern making skills, enhancing in-house design capability and even launching their own collections.