Abstract Since the late 1980s, industry characteristics, country-specific contingencies and international conditions have come together and turned Turkey into a major exporter of jeans. It now has a 6.5 per cent share of the world's market. In this article, I explore this transformation and point out that it has created, especially in the 1990s, significant upgrading opportunities for Turkish firms. A large number of Turkish manufacturing firms are now full-package contractors for a diversified list of brand-name jeans. Some of these manufacturers are also experimenting with functional upgrading by developing their own brands and selling them abroad. Local firms, despite their subordinate position in the value chain, can go beyond low value-added manufacturing and encroach on the core competencies of lead firms.