Alpha Industries has been the pilots choice for over fifty years when it comes to durable, hard-wearing flight jackets. With their popularity back on the rise in recent years, let's take a look at the history of the brand.
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A brand that's story began with a tale of three companies, Alpha Industries unique and interesting history is an interesting read for even the most history-phobic among us. From military contracts to government bans, this iconic American brand has experienced some seriously trivial times but still managed to maintain its place in the market.
Read on for the complete history of Alpha Industries.
The History of Alpha Industries
1940 - 1959
Certainly one of the more unusual ways for a company to come about, Alpha Industries is actually a descendant of three separate companies that eventually led to the founding of the brand we know and love today. Through wartime in the 1940s; Superior Tags Corporation, Rolen Sportswear and Dobbs Industries formed an affiliated family through their common ownership and a shared business of manufacturing for the US military.
In 1948, Robert Lane and his wife took up a contract from the US Department of Defense to manufacture flight jackets under their business, the Superior Tags Corporation. Although they quickly became known for their goods; including the B-10 Bomber and A-10 flight pants, they shut down for unknown reasons in 1952. Almost immediately after, Robert set up the Rolen Sportswear company which, more or less, undertook the same business under a different name with the same US Department of Defense contracts, manufacturing from the same factory.
By 1957, Rolen Sportswear was doing so well that Robert decided to set up another business, Dobbs Industries. This time, he took the business south, where costs of manufacturing and labour were lower as well as partnering up with his accountant -Samuel Gelber. Two years later, in 1959, Robert attempted to bribe a government official for another Department of Defense contract and was caught. As a direct result of this, he was barred from any further contracts with the government.
1959 - 1980
As a result of this, Gerber split with Robert and instead looked to Herman Wynn, founder of Wynn Industries for help in setting up his own company. As such, in 1959, Alpha Industries was founded in Knoxville Tennessee.
Alpha Industries started out relatively small in a leased premises, with leased machines and a small staff. As the peace-time subsided and the Vietnam War came around, military contracts became readily available and Alpha Industries business was booming. As with all the DOD contracts, companies were encouraged to work together to get the goods produced on time. The Wynn Confederation formed as a result, which leased, subcontracted, provided assistance and trained employees for each business that was a member. This support in the early days made all the difference for Alpha, pushing them past the turbulent first twelve months.
The war continued in Vietnam throughout the 1960s and Alpha Industries saw massive growth as a result; expanding from the basement floor, they quickly took over all four floors of the building they were leasing. It was around this time when they began producing the famous MA-1 flight jacket which became incredibly popular among members of the military.
Through the 1970s they continued to manufacture for the US military through various contracts with the DOD. At this stage, they began to alter the company accordingly to ensure they'd the best chance of continuing success through the stable contracts that the government provided. By the mid-seventies, they were producing 550,000 field jackets annually.
1980 - Present
The biggest decision Alpha Industries made in the eighties was to start selling commercially. Although they'd squeezed in a few commercial drops between government contracts, they'd never taken any seriously commercial measures. As the war ended, the Alpha Industry flight jackets found themselves in army surplus stores. As they were known by those who wore them during the war, they soon became in hot demand for their superior quality and stylish appearance.
In 1982 Samuel Gelber died leaving the company to his wife Mildred. Under her leadership, and the guidance of close friends, Alpha began seeking commercial customers to support itself through peaceful times. As the Reagan administration demanded more spending on DOD contracts, Alpha Industries began producing large orders alongside their commercial push - becoming the biggest producer of the new flight jackets that took the place of the MA-1's.
This was short-lived, however, as the cold war soon ended and the 1990s saw a 75% drop in DOD's budget. As trade barriers became easier to navigate and duty tax dropping, the American fashion industry felt the strain - this was the beginning of China's global manufacturing domination. At this stage, Alpha Industries we're barely surviving on any small DOD contract they could get their hands on.
With the continued automation of military tactics, Alpha was increasingly focusing its attention on the commercial side of the business. Not veering far from their roots, they focus on military-styled casuals and outwear - with their bomber jackets being among their most sought-after product.
They're now available globally through a network of retailers, distributors and online stores (including us!) and with celebrity endorsements from Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid to name a few, they're becoming increasingly popular. Watch this space...
Get The Look: Alpha Industries
Although the possibilities for mixing and matching an Alpha Industries jacket are endless, it's always good to have a little inspiration at the ready. This super casual, yet seriously stylish look is easily replicated with pieces from the average man's wardrobe. Want the entire look? Follow the links to shop to your heart's content!
Your Quick Guide to The History of Alpha Industries
- Alpha Industries was founded in Knoxville Tennessee in 1959.
- When the Vietnam War came around, military contracts became readily available and Alpha Industries business was booming.
- By the mid-1970s, they were producing 550,000 field jackets annually.
- In 1982 Samuel Gelber died leaving the company to his wife Mildred. Under her leadership, Alpha began seeking commercial customers to support itself through peaceful times.
- The 1990s saw a 75% drop in the US military budget, forcing Alpha to push their commercial sales.
As one of the biggest military apparel providers in the US, it's no wonder that Alpha have maintained their utilitarian roots to this day. It's this unique dedication to preserving the companies aesthetic, regardless of prevailing trends, that the company has continued its success to this day. Follow the link below to shop the full Alpha Industries collection.