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Fast fashion in Europe - statistics & facts

The fast in “fast fashion” refers to the speed with which clothing products are manufactured and put on the market for consumers. Today, the two heavyweights of the European fast fashion industry are H&M and the Spanish retail group Inditex, which owns a family of brands including Zara, Berksha, and Massimo Dutti, among others. Inditex's financial performance in 2020 placed the retailer in second position in a ranking of European clothing brands based on worldwide sales, with H&M coming in third. Only luxury powerhouse LVMH beat the two fast fashion companies. In a ranking of European clothing companies based on turnover in Europe in 2020, H&M and Inditex were ahead of the chasing pack, with Inditex again narrowly placing ahead of H&M.

Industry overview

Over the past two decades, fashion has undergone a massive transformation and acceleration in the way it is produced and consumed. Increasing trade flows of clothing and apparel, and the growing impact of Chinese and South Asian markets in garment production have lured global brands to source their products from suppliers in these locations. Today, China emerges as the leading global exporter of clothing, with more than one third of the world’s clothing exports supplied by the country. Within the European Union, the number of companies in the business of textile and clothing manufacturing has ebbed and flowed between 2009 and 2019. In 2019, the total number of textile and clothing manufacturers was recorded as 160,000.

Impacts of fast fashion

It is fair to say that what makes the fashion industry “fast”, meaning increased volumes of supplies produced at greater speed, is also what troubles the industry nowadays. One of the most pressing topics with fast fashion companies is the ethical issues that revolve around the sourcing of clothing products. The factories where brands such as Inditex, H&M, Primark, ASOS, and New Look source their products are located predominantly in the developing world, where labour costs are low and working conditions may not be of the highest standard. In this regard, the collapse of the garment factory at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013 was a turning point, after which labor and production policies and practices of brands were put under the spotlight. Since then, efforts have been made to ensure fashion companies are more transparent and accountable, and brands in return have collaborated to contribute to a fair fashion industry. According to the Transparency Index 2021 report, Europe-based fast fashion companies such as H&M, ASOS, Marks & Spencer, and C&A achieved scores ranging between 55 and 78 percent, which indicated they succeeded in disclosing supplier lists in their annual filings.


Another problem associated with fast fashion is the environmental impact of both the quality and quantity of clothing produced. The nature of fast fashion means that huge quantities of clothing are produced, often using environmentally-damaging materials and processes. Furthermore, most of this clothing eventually ends up in landfills. Decreasing the carbon footprint and sourcing sustainable cotton in clothing products are some of the measures fast fashion retailers are pursuing.


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