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Don’t Tell Men, the Bomber Jacket’s Dead

It's a trend with five years of retail success. How much longer can the bomber jacket stay on top? And what's next if it does fade? We investigate.
Don’t Tell Men, the Bomber Jacket’s Dead | EDITED

The bomber jacket has put in the hours in trend’s pole position. But this being fashion, surely it will pass?

And if it does, what will retail do? Currently bomber jackets account for 12.8% of women’s outerwear and 17.5% of men’s. There’s going to be a bomber-jacket-sized hole left in retail business if the industry isn’t prepared.  

Let’s take a look at this mammoth trend’s performance to understand when the bomber jacket is going to fade.  

The Bomber Jacket’s Reign

A good starting point would be understanding just how big the bomber jacket trend has been. Today, across the retailers we track globally, there are more than 120,000 bomber jackets in stock. That’s more than every kind of belt. More than baseball caps and plaid shirts even.

This is a product that has simultaneously kept its trend status while becoming a core item, seeing straight growth over the past four years.  

Many retailers have heavily invested in this trend – ASOS has had close to 8,000 different styles introduced since the start of 2013, and Farfetch has connected shoppers with nearly 11,000 styles at boutiques around the world.

And much money has been made from the trend. The biggest mass market winners — those with the highest number of full price sell-outs — have been New Look, Forever 21, H&M, River Island and ASOS.

In luxury and premium, the brands that have performed best are Alpha Industries, Moncler, Saint Laurent, Gucci and Canada Goose. This is demand with a capital, bolded, ‘D’.

Here are the most successful bomber jackets from the last 55 months:

The State of Play

So where are we now? The chart below shows new arrivals and sell outs of bomber jackets each quarter, across the last 18 quarters.  

bomber jacket
Tracking the bomber jacket trend from 2013 to present.

You can clearly see the steady growth, and seasonality, around the trend, with it soaring in 2016. However, it appears that Q2 this year stayed static to last year. That alone isn’t a huge concern – after all, a similar pattern can be seen in Q2 of 2014 and 2015, amid the trend’s ascendence.  

What’s a little more concerning is that sell outs have also been trailing, since the start of the year. Something doesn’t look good here.

A Bigger Problem

There’s a bigger problem looming. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the number of products discounted, for the first time, each quarter.  

bomber jacket
Discounts have risen sharply in the last few quarters. This should be a warning siren to retailers heavily invested in the style.

The spikes and lulls from Q3 ’13 to Q2 ’16 are entirely normal for a seasonal item. In fact, it’s this kind of discounting which clears old season product and makes way for full priced newness.  

But at Q3 ’16 we hit a problem. Typically this isn’t a discounting quarter for the product, as the three years prior show. But discounts don’t ease off anywhere near as dramatically as they normally do. And we know from the first chart that Q3 ’16 saw the highest number of new products arriving.  

The follow three quarters show discounting consistently higher than at any point since the trend hit. What happened?

The bomber jacket hit saturation point in Q3 ’16. Retailers flooded the market with too much newness, and the trend curled up. We’re sorry to break it to you: the high levels of discounting and falling arrivals and sell outs are evidence enough that this trend is dead.

The US may have a little longer

Taking a closer look at pricing, we can see the steady shift down towards the lower end of pricing of new bombers arriving in 2015 and 2016. The increase in the percentage of products priced $50 or less is a sign that the trend is saturated.

We studied 50 US and UK retailers, representing every level of the market from value to luxury. You can see that currently in the UK, 36% of all bombers on the market are priced $50 or less.

bomber jacket
Over the last two years, the price architecture has slid towards the lower end of the range.

The US market hasn’t devalued as rapidly as the UK, whose fast fashion retailers are amongst the speediest in the world.

The US looks to be six to twelve months behind the UK on the decline, suggesting a little more breathing space for retailers heavily invested in the style currently.  

When Bombers Die, Who Will it Hurt?

Sad though it is, the bomber jacket’s star is on the descent. There are some retailers who will be more affected by this than others.  

A look at how the style was invested in makes it very clear who needs to reassess their jacket category in the coming weeks and months.  

bomber jacket
Menswear and luxury will be most impacted by the death of the bomber jacket trend.

Menswear was most heavily invested in the shape, accounting for 56% of all bombers on the market.

When it comes to market segment, the mass market invested heaviest, but the long tail of this market means late adopters will soften the blow of the shrinking demand.

It’s luxury, as second most invested market, that needs to reinvent fast. And with the average luxury bomber currently priced at $1,279.97, there’s some serious margin to be lost if retailers resort to discounting.  

What Will Replace the Bomber?

The best way to spot the hotting up of a new trend is to look to those retailers who fared so well from the bomber jacket – they were ahead of the curve, so how are they responding to shifts in the market?

We looked at those top five mass market retailers mentioned above (New Look, Forever 21, H&M, River Island and ASOS) to understand the shift in new arrivals over the last three months.

Straight out of the gate we could see that there have been 6% fewer new arrivals in the outerwear category at these Power Five in the last three months than in the same period last year.

Not every consumer is going to want, or need, to replace their bomber jacket in the next twelve months, so you can anticipate some minor shrinkage.

What’s most revealing is the 63% these retailers have cut back on the bomber jacket.

So where’s the newness? These retailers have increased new arrivals on coach jackets (boxier cut with a collar and most often button or popper fastening) by 62% and denim jackets (again in boxy shapes, some with borg lining and collars) are up 88%.

Leading the newness right now however is the ever-so-sporty track jacket, with new arrivals up 110%.

That’s backed up by the runways too, specifically in menswear. We’ll be staying tuned in next month’s shows to see how womenswear responds!

Is the bomber jacket facing extinction? Data from the front line of fashion.

The cool thing about this data is that retailers using it are able to check in — on a daily basis, if they wish — to avoid the pitfalls of a declining trend.

Spotting it early, they’re able to adjust orders and introduce promotions that clear stock ahead of more serious discounts. If you’d like to know more about retail analytics, talk to us!