Which Clothing Chain Is the World's Largest Fashion Apparel Retailer?

Walmart Is World's Largest Retail Chain, But Not the Largest Fashion Retailer

Facade of the store of Spanish fashion brand Zara in Zagreb.
Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images

Since retailing is a global industry, a frequently asked retail question is about how global retail companies compare to each other.  Specifically, it is often wondered which retail clothing chain is the world's largest retailer of fashion apparel.  Many people think that because Walmart is the world's largest retail chain and Walmart sells clothing and fashion accessories that Walmart must be the largest retailer of fashion apparel.

 

Related: World’s Largest Retail Chains Based in the U.S.

Strictly speaking, most retail industry experts wouldn't necessarily define all clothing as "fashion" apparel.  And since Walmart stores are classified around the world either as discount department stores or hypermarkets, Walmart wouldn't be defined as an apparel retailer.

Considering just fashion apparel and fashion apparel retailers, there is not just one retail company that is clearly the "largest" in the world.  But it is clear that the company considered to be the world's largest retailer of fashion of apparel is not Walmart, and is also not one the largest U.S. retail companies.

Much like answer the question about "What is the largest U.S. shopping mall?" there is not just one answer to the question about which fashion retailer is the largest in the world.  

In terms of the total number of global retail outlets, Inditex, headquartered in Arteixo, Galicia, Spain is the "biggest" retailer of fashion apparel in the world.

 In terms of annual revenue, however, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) beat out Inditex by a few hundred million dollars in the most recent fiscal year for each company.  

See also: What Is the World’s Largest Retail Store?

 As of 2015 the Inditex group comprised 8 different retail brands, selling from more than 6,700 retail outlets operating in 86 sales markets around the world.

 The annual revenue in 2014 was $19.7 billion, and all of those billions were collected in exchange for fashion apparel and accessories.  

As of 2015, Inditex was retailing fashion and apparel through these retail brand stores:

  • Zara
  • Pull & Bear
  • Massimo Dutti
  • Bershka
  • Stradivarius
  • Oysho
  • Zara Home
  • Uterqüe

What makes Inditex such a formidable global fashion retail competitor  is the 100 apparel-related companies that are not about retailing. The sum total of the Inditex holdings creates a vertically integrated supply chain and the fast fashion business model that fashion retailers around the world are striving to copy.  

Fast fashion, once ridiculed and characterized as "disposable fashion," is a major disruptor not only for fashion retailing, but for the entire global fashion industry.  H&M is also an apparel retailer that is leading the fast fashion charge around the world.  On track to open 400 new stores per year, the major growth markets for H&M are currently China and the U.S.  

Since both the "largest" and the "biggest" fashion apparel retailers in the world have built their global retail empires with the fast fashion business model, it's safe to say that fashion consumers are happily participating in the global fashion disruption.

 Low-priced high fashion is what is driving apparel shoppers through the doors of H&M and Inditex retail stores.  And fast fashion is a retail strategy that more of the world's largest retailers will embrace in order to effectively compete with the "largest" and "biggest" fashion retail chains in the world.