Founded in 1959 in Knoxville, Tennessee initially as a contractor to the United States military, Alpha Industries quickly grew into an international commercial seller of American military style and fashion apparel.
Now in its 60th year, the brand is managed by third-generation CEO of Alpha Industries, Mike Cirker, who is continuing the legacy of his father and grandfather before him.
We recently sat down with Cirker to chat about the key milestones the company has seen over the years, what keeps customers coming back, and how the brand is celebrating its big birthday.
MR: What have been some of the key milestones throughout your 60 years in business?
Cirker: Sixty years is a long time in this business. Alpha has certainly had its ups and downs. But we have remained strong and relevant by etching out our niche, remaining true to our roots, and perhaps a little luck from time to time. The company has experienced four key milestones in the six-decade run, beginning in the early sixties with the Vietnam War. The American military buildup in South Asia was the initial catalyst that brought Alpha from being a small textile manufacturing company to a major player in government contracting. Alpha became the primary supplier for the MA-1 and M-65 jackets, and N2B and N3B cold weather parkas, cementing the company as the go-to supplier for durable and dependable military-grade outerwear garments.
The next key milestone was in the 1980s when Alpha began wholesaling surplus inventory from government contracts to consumer retail. Demand from retired military servicemen and pilots returning from the battlefields for the real jackets they were issued during service spiked, enabling Alpha to brand itself to the consumer market as the authentic manufacturing brand of military outerwear and garments. The third milestone was following the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, where Alpha made a pivot away from government contracting and fully embrace commercial sales into the army/navy surplus trade. Alpha leveraged its authentic heritage and found strong emerging markets in Europe and Asia.
And the last milestone was in the late 2000s when the family-ownership passed down to the third generation who reimagined the brand as a heritage military-inspired fashion brand. We’ve repositioned the brand from lower-tier surplus into better department store and boutique trend markets, where it continues to thrive today.
MR: What has remained as your core ethos throughout the years? What’s important to you?
Cirker: Our core ethos has always been to remain true to our roots as the premier authentic military-heritage brand. Alpha continues to manufacture and market our core heritage pieces as the foundation for every seasonal collection. Trendy fashion designs are based on authentic historical silhouettes and fabrications. And our brand marketing always encompasses historical storytelling relevant to our heritage.
MR: What keeps your customers coming back?
Cirker: The core heritage pieces, including the MA-1, M-65, N2B, and N3B are classic styles that have evolved from the true warfighters’ protective gear to fashion staples found in the everyday civilian wardrobe. Alpha’s brand authenticity and insistence on maintaining original specifications and quality keep the customer coming back for decades.
MR: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since you’ve taken over?
Cirker: Never take your eye off the fundamentals of people, planning, and process. The fashion business is tough and one day you may be winning and the next day you’re losing. Alpha benefited tremendously from the recent bomber jacket trend, and as we were growing so fast we momentarily lost sight of some of our core business. We were reminded that we are a sixty-year-old company and we play the long game. Alpha will remain the preeminent authentic military-heritage brand by ensuring product authenticity and quality and making secure movements forward into new endeavors.
MR: How do you choose who to collaborate with?
Cirker: There was a long period of the phone ringing off the hook with reputable brands looking to collaborate. Alpha had its pick of partners, and we looked at collaboration as a revenue generator. After a few years, we reset this strategy to focus on brand exposure and product invention. Some of my favorite collaborations are limited edition runs of unique products in new categories with interesting heritage brands. We enjoy storytelling and brand building in the replacement of revenue seeking.
MR: What have been some of your memorable collaborations?
Cirker: Years ago we were approached by Burton Snowboards to co-develop a military-inspired snowboard outerwear collection. This collab opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of category and consumer segment opportunity. From Burton, we went on to collaborate in new categories with Helinox, Eastpak, and Timex, to runway fashion brands Vetements and Comme des Garçons, to upcycle brands in Atelier & Repair and READYMADE. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of what we’ve done that past five years.
MR: How are you celebrating your 60th anniversary?
Cirker: Sixty years is a remarkable achievement for the company and the people who dedicate themselves to it. We are celebrating with product including an anniversary jacket, tees and fleece capsule, as well as a series of collaboration drops with JCrew, 3Sixteen, Atelier & Repair, Timex, Bathing Ape, and Lacoste. Our partners around the world including Japan, Korea, Germany, and the UK are joining the celebration with events, storytelling in the media, and local collaborations.