Beyond the military vibe
The story of Alpha Industries is one that transpires in two parts. First is the company’s early origins, brought to life by war and wartime money. The second part is an almost entire about face, with a known supplier to the military turning its company profile around. Both of these segments of the Alpha Industries history are linked together by ambition. Now, as most of us know, ambition is something quite easy to either lack or overdo. In the case of the iconic Alpha Industries, there’s a fair amount of both, bringing us to the name we know and admire today.
In the early 1940s, three companies had been working with contracts to supply the U.S. military. Superior Tags Corporation, Dobbs Industries, and Rolen Sportswear. The three names were family owned and, because of this, decided to consolidate their businesses into one shared entity. Presumbaby, this would make bargaining and vying for military contracts a lot simpler. Furthermore, living up to those deals with the Department of Defense was going to be much more feasible thanks to combined and streamlined manufacturing processes. The three combined companies specialized in the manufacturing of flight jackets for the military.
Fortunately for business, the 1940s were not exactly about peace for a large chunk of the world. The Department of Defense had set up such lucrative contracts with the trio of brands that each was now doing quite well going into the 50s. But, for a reason that is yet unknown, the combined brand had decided to shut things down in 1952. This prompted Robert Lane and his wife, owners of Rolen Sportswear, to break out on their own in 1957. The pair took their suddenly blooming business to the more Southern states, where manufacturing costs were relatively low. For the owners of Rolen Sportswear, it seemed like there was a noticeable lack in ambition as the other aforementioned businesses were perhaps not thinking beyond contracts from wartime.
Unfortunately, those contracts with the Department of Defense would dry up leading into the 60s. This is when ambition bit at the fortunes of the ambitious. Robert Lane responded to some slow business by attempting to bribe a government official for a new contract with the Department of Defense. He would get caught and would be barred from any further dealing with the DOD. It was officially time for his company to begin anew.
But, it wouldn’t be Lane to continue the brand name. Samuel Gelber, an accountant who partnered with Lane throughout this DOD mess, split with his business partner and joined with Herman Wynn. And thus, Alpha Industries would be born, in 1959. At this point in time, there was no war to be had, so business was modest. Still, the brand had a small but effective setup in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they would continue to manufacture and sell their signature MA-1 Flight Jacket and B-1 Bomber.
Then, war returned, and with it came the boom of business and revenue. With the military in full swing again, thanks to a conflict in Vietnam, the signature Alpha Industries jackets became extremely popular, forcing the company to expand its space in the leased factory. They hired more staff and leased more machines, seemingly overwhelmed by product orders, dominated by a popularity among soldiers and members of the military.
Today, the lore of the brand’s wears very much exists. Bomber jackets aren’t a military staple anymore, but they have become a permanent fixture in the realm of both streetwear and high fashion. It turns out that Alpha Industries can simply aim to keep their clients warm and stylish, not needing wartime to flourish.