From Boomers, to Millennials to Gen Z, fast fashion brands like H&M, Uniqlo (Fast Retailing), Zara (Inditex) and Asos have seemingly always found a niche with those looking for affordable clothing that was in-line with the latest trends.

recent McKinsey report showed that not only were 3 of the aforementioned companies in the Top 20 of the most profitable fashion brands, but that they have consistently held these spots for more than a decade.

However, with changing attitudes towards fast fashion and its impact on the environment, as well as the emergence of COVID-19, the future may not be as bright as it once was for these companies.

For the first time since going public in 2001, Inditex, which appeared at the top of McKinsey’s most profitable fashion brands list, posted it’s first ever loss, while competitors H&M have warned analysts and investors that they’re also likely to miss their forecast.

With countries slowly reopening, and online retail continuing to be a source of revenue, there are still opportunities for these brands to get on the right foot by understanding what’s been driving the narrative of the industry from both a media and consumer perspective.

Who’s Winning the Overall Share of Voice with Media? 

The timeline view of brand coverage and industry trends dating back to June 2018 shows that H&M is the clear winner among the big names in fast fashion, and it’s not even close when compared to Uniqlo, Asos and Zara’s parent company, Inditex.

Drilling down into this timeline, we can see that apart from coverage about their financial health, new locations and more recently, sustainability, were driving publications to talk about their brand.

Sustainability is Central to the Larger Conversation 

H&M was definitely onto something when leaning into their focus on sustainability. When we take a look at the overall network, we can see that sustainability initiatives are key topics not just in the coverage of H&M, but also to the larger conversation about fast fashion:

Roughly 12% of articles about these fast fashion giants in the past 2 years have focused on sustainability initiatives, with H&M leading the way thanks to coverage of new products being released as part of  their Conscious Collection, as well as their announcement of their clothing rental service towards the end of 2019 (represented by the tan and dark pink bars respectively in the charts below). 

With survey reports indicating that most consumers were willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, it’s no surprise that H&M, one of the leaders in this market, decided to pour its efforts into campaigns that associated its brand with eco-friendliness.

But as you can see in the timeline chart above, conversations around sustainability didn’t retain its momentum into 2020. When we take a look at an unfiltered view of our timeline, and stacked by the percentage of stories published each month, we can see that in terms of the overall share of the fast fashion brand narrativewhat appears to have knocked sustainability conversations and industry trends off-course was COVID-19.