H&M Competitors Analysis: Who’s The Biggest Fast-Fashion Retailer?

H&M, short for Hennes & Mauritz, is a fast-fashion clothing retailer catering to men, women, teenagers, and children.

The company, which is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, was founded in 1947 by Erling Persson.

That year, he opened the firm’s first store dubbed Hennes (Swedish for ‘hers’) aimed at females. 21 years later, Persson purchased hunting apparel retailer Mauritz Widforss, which not only added menswear to its collection but led to the firm’s rebrand.

During the 1970s, H&M expanded into multiple countries including Norway, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Simultaneously, H&M went public on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in 1974.

Persson ultimately stepped down as CEO in 1982 (he passed away 20 years later) while H&M grew across the European continent. The firm’s first online store was launched in 1998 during the height of the dot-com bubble.

Over the coming decades, H&M continued to expand its physical and digital footprint. Furthermore, it partnered with some of the world’s most famous designers and brands including Karl Lagerfeld (2004) or Versace (2011).

Meanwhile, H&M took advantage of its increasing popularity by introducing a line of home accessories, such as blankets or pillows, in 2009.

Today, H&M generates annual net sales of SEK198 billion (~ USD18.15 billion) on healthy operating profits of SEK15 billion (~ USD1.37 billion).

Moreover, its sales are fairly well diversified. 32 percent of all money that H&M generates comes from online sales. While most of the firm’s revenue still is made in Europe, other regions have begun to catch up as well.

h&m revenue by geography
Own Illustration

The company now employs a total of 155,000 people across 4,700+ stores in 76 markets (56 of which are served online).

Finally, H&M also owns and operates a variety of other brands including Cheap Monday, Monki, Weekday (all of which were acquired in March 2008), and many more.

In spite of the firm’s overwhelming success, it has also been subject to a variety of controversies. Workers in its various factories have been exposed to dangerous chemicals while children were severely underpaid.

Additionally, the firm’s marketing efforts haven’t always been met with admiration. In early 2018, H&M faced a massive backlash over its ‘monkey’ sweatshirt ad.

Ranking Methodology

The methodology with which competitors of H&M are ranked is based on various data points. Information such as the number of stores, revenue, number of employees, sister brands, and everything else deemed relevant is being considered.

This analysis is limited to fashion retailers focusing on mid-market consumers, thus excluding luxury brands such as LVHM, Chanel, and similar brands.

Furthermore, we will not take brands like Adidas and Nike into account as they mostly focus on one specific customer segment (athletic wear, in this case).

Fashion marketplaces, which include companies like Poshmark and Vinted, are also excluded from this comparison. Lastly, we won’t consider competitors in the firm’s Home division.

However, this analysis should not be seen as an endorsement for any of the below-listed services. It is merely a summary of the competition that H&M faces as of today.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 13 competitors of H&M.

1. Inditex

Headquarters: Arteixo, Spain

Founder(s): Amancio Ortega, Rosalia Mera

Year Founded: 1975

Inditex, which is most notably known for owning Zara, is the world’s largest fast-fashion retailer. In 2021 alone, it generated revenues of USD30.49 billion across its brands, which also entail Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, and more.

As a result of the Covid pandemic, Inditex has begun to shift its business towards online sales. By 2024, the company aims to have roughly a third of its revenue come from online sales (currently around 25 percent).

However, the core retail business is nothing to scoff at either. Inditex is present in 2015 markets while its brands operate close to 6,500 stores. A whopping 162,000 people are employed by the group on top of that.

The company’s crown jewel, without a doubt, remains Zara, which accounts for the majority of its income.

Zara revolutionized the fast fashion industry through a variety of innovations, which entailed seeking direct shopper feedback, keeping factories within or close to Spain, and involving its design team in all kinds of processes. As a result, it is able to bring styles to life within 2 weeks or less.

Sources: Inditex, PYMNTS, Statista

2. SHEIN

Headquarters: Nanjing, China

Founder(s): Xiaoqing Ren, Yang Pei, Yangtian Xu

Year Founded: 2008

Now, if you thought that Zara was fast, then you probably haven’t heard of SHEIN yet. The Chinese company has flipped the concept of fast fashion completely on its head.

It directly works together with hundreds of factories in China. Once it spots a trend, it tests that style on its website by producing a few thousand units. If the test is deemed successful, then the product line is rolled out to the tens of millions of users that are registered on SHEIN.

However, apart from the environmental questionability, SHEIN has also been criticized for copying the designs of small fashion labels.

SHEIN was initially launched as SheInside, a site that sold wedding dresses to mostly American consumers. Founder Xiaoqing Ren, who mostly goes by the name Chris Xu, completely revamped the firm to its current model in 2013.

Xu has since raised $2.1 billion in funding for the company, which is valued at $100 billion – more than H&M and Zara combined. SHEIN, which makes money simply by selling the clothes on its platform directly to consumers, allegedly generated USD15.7 billion in revenue during the fiscal year 2021.

Sources: Crunchbase, Reuters, SHEIN About Section

3. The Gap

Headquarters: San Francisco, California

Founder(s): Donald Fisher, Doris Fisher

Year Founded: 1969

Husband-and-wife duo Donald and Doris Fisher began selling men’s Levi’s jeans and record tapes when they started the first The Gap store in San Francisco. Within the next 7 years, they managed to introduce the first Gap-branded items (1974) and take the company public (1976) with an initial offering of 1.2 million shares of stock.

The company largely became known for its laid-back classics and iconic denim while providing consumers with reasonably priced items. It also owns and operates a plethora of other brands including Banana Republic (bought in 1983), Old Navy (launched internally in 1994), and Athleta (acquired in 2008).

The Gap, just like many other fashion retailers, has been shifting more and more of its business towards serving consumers online. For reference, during the mid-2000s, it employed approximately 135,000 people and ran well over 3,700 stores.

Today, The Gap generates USD16.7 billion in net sales (2021) while operating 2,800+ stores across the globe. Online sales now account for around 43 percent of The Gap’s revenue, which employs close to 100,000 individuals.

Sources: Statista, The Gap About Section, The Gap History, The Gap Investor Relations

4. PVH (Phillips-Van Heusen)

Headquarters: New York City, New York

Founder(s): Moses Phillips, John Van Heusen, Dramin Jones

Year Founded: 1881

PVH is a fashion conglomerate that owns and operates a variety of renowned brands including Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Olga, True & Co., and Warner’s. For example, it acquired Tommy Hilfiger for $3 billion back in 2010 while Calvin Klein was purchased 7 years prior.

Dramin Jones, a Prussian immigrant, started a shirt manufacturing company back in 1865 while Moses Phillips and his wife were selling hand-sewed shirts to coal miners in Pennsylvania. The two companies merged in 1907 after Jones died four years prior.

And around 50 years later, that same business, which went public in 1920, acquired t-shirt manufacturer Van Heusen. I was ultimately rebranded from Phillips-Van Heusen to PVH in 2011.

Owning legacy brands certainly translates into some impressive revenue numbers as well. In 2021 alone, PVH generated USD9.2 billion in revenue, 90 percent of which came from Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

Moreover, around 60 percent of the firm’s income now comes from outside the United States. PVH is currently active in 40+ countries across every continent. The various businesses employ over 31,000 associates scattered across 6,000+ stores.

Sources: PVH About Section, PVH History, PVH Investor Relations

5. Uniqlo

Headquarters: Yamaguchi, Japan

Founder(s): Tadashi Yanai

Year Founded: 1949

Uniqlo, which is a sub-organization of Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., is primarily known for its simple and universally applicable clothing that largely remains in style and is thus not affected by any trends. Its clothing is solely sold via the firm’s own stores and web property.

Founder Yanai took the company over from his father who had previously owned a textile manufacturing company called Ogori Shōji He established “Unique Clothing Warehouse” only in 1984, which he wanted to expand abroad 4 years later.

In a twisted turn of luck, the administrator in Hong Kong who was supposed to register the trademark accidentally misspelled it, which eventually prompted him to change the firm’s name to Uniqlo back in Japan.

Uniqlo has since expanded into all kinds of verticals, from casual wear all the way to athleisure clothing. The firm, in 2018, even signed a 10-year sponsorship deal with tennis star Roger Federer worth $300 million to boost its athletic wear.

In 2021, Uniqlo generated USD6.2 billion in revenue, 90 percent of which came from its 2,372 stores that are spread across the globe (the firm operates 812 of those in Japan alone). Close to 56,000 people are now employed by the company.

Sources: Fast Retailing, Forbes, Uniqlo About Section

6. Zalando

Headquarters: Berlin, Germany

Founder(s): David Schneider, Robert Gentz

Year Founded: 2008

Zalando is another online fashion retailer that sells branded items as well as its line of clothing in over 25 markets in Europe.

More than 6,000 brands, including Armani or Nike, are being sold on its website. It owns private-label brands, which are manufactured by sourcing partners, including Anna Field, Even&Odd, Friboo, Pier One, Yourturn, and ZIGN.

The online platform also works with more than 7,000 retailers via its Connected Retail solution, allowing them to directly sell on its website.  

Gentz and Schneider had previously tried to launch a social network in South America, which ultimately failed. Armed with an investment from German venture capitalist Oliver Samwer and inspired by the success of U.S.-based Zappos, the two decided to launch a European version of the American online retailer.

They managed to raise USD615 million in funding for Zalando, which ultimately went public in October 2014. In 2021, Zalando, which employs over 17,000 people, generated EUR10.4 billion in revenue.

Sources: Crunchbase, Zalando About Section, Zalando Connected Retail, Zalando History, Zalando Investor Relations

7. Ralph Lauren

Headquarters: New York City, New York

Founder(s): Ralph Lauren

Year Founded: 1967

Founder Ralph Lauren, who began his career selling ties in a showroom next to the Empire State Building, was born Ralph Lifshitz. But after being repeatedly teased in school for his last name, his brother Jerry decided to change it when Ralph was 16.

And while the firm’s namesake founder stepped down from the helm of the company after 48 years in 2015, it still goes strong to this day. In 2022, the firm reached net sales of USD6.2 billion, with now close to 25 percent being generated via its online store.

Consequently, the remaining 75 percent of its revenue comes from its ~ 150 stores as well as wholesale (i.e., clothes being sold at other retailers as well as third-party websites). Ralph Lauren currently employs around 22,000 people.

Additionally, Ralph Lauren operates a variety of different brands, targeting different consumer demographics and price ranges. For example, its Chaps division creates casual sportswear for men at highly affordable prices.

Sources: Ralph Lauren History, Ralph Lauren Investor Relations

8. Abercrombie & Fitch

Headquarters: New Albany, Ohio

Founder(s): David Abercrombie, Ezra Fitch

Year Founded: 1892

Many have gotten to know Abercrombie & Fitch for its stores that featured barely clothed sales reps with extremely good looks. However, the company has since tried separate itself from that image, which led to discrimination lawsuits.

Abercrombie & Fitch, despite its dwindling popularity, is still one of the world’s most popular clothing retailers. It currently employs around 44,000 people that are working in 730 stores across North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The company has also tried its best to separate itself from its once sexual image by introducing various sister brands. These include Hollister Co., Gilly Hicks, Social Tourist, and YPB.

Revenue is yet to rebound from the firm’s peak in the early 2010s, though. In 2021, Abercrombie & Fitch reached net sales of USD3.71 billion.

However, there is some cause for optimism as well. The company now generates close to 50 percent of its revenue from online sales, in large part due to its partnerships with social media personalities like Charli and Dixie D’Amelio.

Sources: Abercrombie & Fitch About Section, Abercrombie & Fitch Investor Relations, Business Insider

9. Primark

Headquarters: Dublin, Ireland

Founder(s): Arthur Ryan

Year Founded: 1969

Primark is a fashion retailer that is known for its extremely low prices, which are oftentimes far below what even H&M offers. It now operates close to 400 stores in 14 markets, namely Europe and the United States.

The firm initially launched as Penneys in Ireland, a name that 36 of its stores in the country still operate by. However, when it wanted to expand into the U.K. in 1973, the Penneys trademark had already been registered by American retailer J. C. Penney.

Founder Arthur Ryan had launched Primark on behalf of the Weston family who had started Associated British Foods (ABF) in the 1930s. ABF remains the sole owner of Primark to this date. Meanwhile, the fashion retailer is now ABF’s biggest revenue generator.

Today, Primark employs over 65,000 people while generating revenues of GBP5.6 billion (~ USD6.37 billion) on an annual basis.

Sources: Associated British Foods, Primark About Section, Primark Careers

10. NEXT

Headquarters: Enderby, England

Founder(s): Joseph Hepworth

Year Founded: 1864

Initially launched as a tailoring business dubbed Joseph Hepworth & Son, NEXT (or Next plc) now sells clothing, homeware, and beauty products. Online sales have become increasingly important for NEXT, which now derives around 65 percent of its revenue from its website and app.

What’s unique about NEXT is the firm’s willingness to disrupt itself. It now also offers product creation services for other brands, the option to get access to its supplier base, and even features third-party brands on its own platform.

However, the core retail business remains a staple in the firm’s portfolio as well. NEXT still owns and operates 477 retail stores, which are dispersed across the world. Over 40,000 people are employed by the company, which generated GBP4.86 billion (~ USD5.51 billion) in revenue during the fiscal year 2022.

Sources: NEXT Annual Report, NEXT Business Model, NEXT History

11. ASOS

Headquarters: London, England

Founder(s): Nick Robertson, Andrew Regan, Quentin Griffiths, Deborah Thorpe

Year Founded: 2000

ASOS, which initially launched as ‘As Seen On Screen’, started as a site that would feature clothing and goods sported by celebrities. Some of its items sold at the time included a wallet that appeared in the movie Pulp Fiction, among other memorabilia.

A year after the launch, ASOS was accepted into the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) on the London Stock Exchange. Over the coming years, ASOS expanded from its initial celebrity focus towards being an online fashion retailer.

By 2004, ASOS had already launched its own female fashion line, which celebrities like Rihanna began to wear. However, not everything was always going according to plan. A fire at its main warehouse (Barnsley) in 2014 forced ASOS to shut down its business for 6 weeks.

Nevertheless, with GBP3.91 billion (~ USD4.45 billion) in annual revenue (2021), it remains one of the largest pure-play online fashion retailers in the world. Over 26 million users access its platform every month and shop the more than 850 brands (including 17 of its own) ASOS sells.

Over 3,500 people are currently employed by ASOS. Lastly, ASOS ships to over 200 countries across the globe.

Sources: ASOS About Section, ASOS Investor Relations, The Guardian

12. Mango

Headquarters: Palau-solità I Plegamans, Spain

Founder(s): Isak Andic, Nahman Andic

Year Founded: 1984

Mango is another Spanish fashion retailer offering clothing at a similar price range to Zara. The company has a physical presence in over 100 markets while employing around 16,000 people across its 2,700+ stores.

Most of those stores are located in Turkey. This is because brothers Isak and Nahman Andic had immigrated from Turkey to Spain where they launched Mango.

Much like H&M, the firm offers clothing aimed at men, women, teens, and children. Additionally, it has introduced a home line as well. In the past, Mango has worked together with celebrities like Zinedine Zidane to launch new fashion lines.

In 2021, the firm generated EUR2.2 billion in revenue. 21 percent of that was made in its Spanish home base while the rest could be attributed to its foreign markets.

Sources: Mango Corporate

13. Forever 21

Headquarters: Los Angeles, California

Founder(s): Do Won Chang, Jin Sook Chang

Year Founded: 1984

Husband-and-wife duo Do Won and Jin Sook Chang launched then-called Fashion 21 in Los Angeles 3 years after they immigrated from South Korea to the United States. In its first year of operation, the Fashion 21 store generated more than $700,000 in revenue.

By the mid-2010s, Forever 21 was considered one of the world’s most valuable fashion retailers. Meanwhile, Forbes pegged the Chang’s net worth at a combined $5.9 billion during the firm’s peak in 2015.

Unfortunately, that all changed just a few years later. In September 2019, Forever 21 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. 5 months later, the company was sold to Authentic Brands Group (ABG) and a group of malls for a mere $81 million.

Forever 21, as part of the bankruptcy process, closed stores in a variety of countries including Canada, Hong Kong, and Portugal, among many others. The firm’s store count thus shrunk from over 700 at its peak to 540 today.

Its revenue peaked at an estimated $4.4 billion in 2015. Unfortunately, more recent numbers are not being disclosed by the company’s new owners.

Sources: Business Insider, Forbes, Forever 21 About Section

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.