The environmental and human impact of fast fashion is regularly the subject of investigation, controversy and debate, yet it is still popular with the buying public, reports a new study, which even elevates Shein to the rank of the world’s most popular brand in 2022.
What’s your favourite fashion brand?
According to a recent report by Money.co.uk, chances are it’s a fast-fashion brand, as these seem to be highly popular with consumers. After analysing 12 months of Google search data in (absolutely) every country in the world, the comparison site even reports that the Chinese giant Shein is now the most popular brand on the planet.
And that’s no mean feat since the ultra-fast-fashion brand didn’t even feature in last year’s ranking.
Among the top 15 most popular brands worldwide, six are fast-fashion brands, reflecting a growing interest in fast fashion, based on mass production, rather than on quality manufacturing, and lower prices.
And, although regularly under fire, Shein is shaping up to be a customer favourite — in terms of searches at least — coming out as the top brand in 113 countries. The brand steals the show from another fast-fashion giant, Zara, relegated to second place as the top brand in ‘just’ 26 countries.
Shein tops the search results (by far) on all continents, particularly in Europe, where Zara is losing its previous domination. The same goes for North America, where the low-price fashion specialist tops the list in 20 countries (out of 24), ahead of the Macy’s chain of stores.
Meanwhile, the much more responsible sportswear brand Lululemon is the top brand in Canada.
From Asia to South America, Oceania and Africa, Shein’s reign is unprecedented, winning in the majority of countries on these continents. Although the ranking is based on search data, and not on sales, it is clear that the Chinese brand — which has been criticised for its significant impact on the environment — is attracting extraordinary interest in an industry that seems to be well and truly driven by fast fashion.
Overshadowing major luxury brands
Just two years ago, the same ranking, compiled using a similar methodology, highlighted the dominance of luxury brands, starting with Louis Vuitton, which topped the list of searches in 47 countries. Gucci, Chanel, Calvin Klein, Rolex, Coach, Tory Burch, Loewe, Valentino and Fendi followed.
A year later, the first signs of change were visible, with, for the first time, an evident domination of fast-fashion and sportswear giants, from Zara to Asos, Nike, Adidas and H&M. Nevertheless, many luxury brands, such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger or Gucci, still remained at the top of the ranking.
In 2022, only four luxury or premium brands still stand out in the ranking — namely Dior and Chanel, respectively 10th and 11th, and Hugo Boss and Michael Kors, 12th and 14th — overshadowed by brands such as Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and Asos, to name but a few. At a time when environmental issues are pushing fashion brands across the spectrum to reinvent, this ranking may seem as unexpected as it is surprising.
The end of a reign? Still, 2023 could officially be the year of change. Environmental labelling, bonuses for the most virtuous brands, and other measures could make consumers more aware of the extent of the environmental catastrophe that certain brands and fashion chains represent. In addition, new practices — such as resale, repair services or upcycling — could progressively find a greater place in consumers’ buying habits.
Another factor could be a potential war on fast fashion, as has already been declared by some in the fashion industry. The decision taken by the resale platform Vestiaire Collective to ban fast-fashion brands from its online store is a good example of this.
The decision is justified by the mountains of waste generated by this industry and could give rise to other initiatives of the kind, while also contributing to steering consumers away from these low-cost brands.
Global search data was analysed by Money.co.uk in November 2022, using Google’s keyword planner. The top brand in each country was identified using the annual search data in each country for each brand. The 2022 data was compared to the 2021 data to find the biggest changes worldwide.