alpha industries

HQChantilly, Virginia
FounderSamuel Gelber

Come every fall, winter, and spring, the bomber jacket emerges as one of the most ubiquitous pieces of clothing out there. For that, there’s Alpha Industries to thank. Born out of an ethical dispute between two business partners, Samuel Gelber and Robert Lane, the former split from the pair’s existing company, Dobbs Industries, to form his own Alpha Industries in 1959. Working off of contracts from the United States Department of Defense, Alpha Industries made clothing for the US military for decades—peaking during the Vietnam War—before transitioning into making military-style apparel and military replica clothing for civilian customers once the Vietnam War and Cold War ended. From their over half century of operations, they’ve become famous for three styles of jacket: the M65 field coat, and the MA-1 and CWU-45/P pilot jackets. Now celebrating their 60th anniversary, Alpha Industries is ramping up its efforts as a full-scale fashion house, creating seasonal collections for men and women and re-imagining old classics for more practical, trendier, and more modern uses. Why was Alpha Industries founded? Alpha Industries would’ve never existed without some bad business ethics performed by Samuel Gelber’s business partner Robert Lane. In 1959, over 10 years after originally getting into making clothing for the military through his companies Superior Tags Corporation and Rolen Sportswear, Lane, then running Dobbs Industries with Gelber, was accused of bribing a Department of Defense official in exchange for more military contracts. As a result, his business and any associated businesses were barred from receiving anymore government contracts. This effectively put Dobbs Industries and Lane out of business with the government, but it didn’t stop Gelber. Splitting up with Lane, Gelber started Alpha Industries in the basement of a factory in Knoxville, Tennessee, at first using leased sewing machines with a handful of employees. Although Department of Defense contracts were scarce at the time, once the Vietnam War started a few years later, Gelber and Alpha Industries ramped up production and haven’t looked back since. What’s the signature Alpha Industries bomber called? The MA-1 bomber jacket, also known as the MA-1 flight jacket, is the most well-known piece from Alpha Industries’ history. It was developed in 1958 by Alpha Industries’ preceding company, Dobbs Industries, out of necessity during the new Jet Age of military aviation. Before jet aircraft, pilots wore bulky leather fleece-lined jackets that absorbed water too easily, making them cold and uncomfortable when taken to the new heights these streamlined jets could fly. The MA-1, with its sage nylon exterior and bright orange polyester lining, solved issues of warmth, weight, and mobility for jet pilots. After the Vietnam War, civilians began picking up the MA-1 in military surplus and thrift stores, propelling its popularity as an everyday jacket for intermediate to cold weather. Alpha Industries Timeline 1957 — Samuel Gelber and Robert Lane found Dobbs Industries in Knoxville, Tennessee to make outerwear for the US military. 1959 — Lane gets in trouble with the Department of Defense for bribing officials and is subsequently barred from government contract work. Gelber splits with Lane and Dobbs Industries and forms his own military outerwear company Alpha Industries. Soon after its founding, Alpha Industries wins its first Department of Defense contract to make Air Force parkas and Navy shirts. 1963 — Alpha Industries wins its first contract to manufacture the MA-1 for the US military. Over time, they’d become the dominant manufacturer of the classic MA-1 jacket. 1965 — The company wins its first Department of Defense contract to make the M-65 field coat. Every year for the next 25 years, Alpha Industries receive contracts to make the M-65 for the military. 1970 — Alpha Industries begins making small batches of jackets for the commercial market to keep production lines going in-between orders for military contracts. 1982 — Samuel Gelber passes away, and new leadership takes over at Alpha Industries. They expand the commercial side of the business and begin branding the company by trademarking the three horizontal bars on every one of Alpha Industries’ commercial clothing labels. 1988 — After nearly 30 years in business, Alpha Industries develops and debuts its first brand logo for commercial catalog use. In their wholesale catalog, an expanded product line appears specifically for the commercial market. 1992 — Receiving a branding facelift, the “Flying A” logo is born in response to rapid growth in the commercial market. 2008 — Alpha Industries begins collaborating with other clothing brands for the first time. Streetwear and skate companies like Stussy and Hurley are amongst the first to collaborate. 2016 — Celebrities like Kanye West, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner are spotted wearing the MA-1 bomber jacket, leading to a 30 percent increase in revenue and cementing its place as a wardrobe staple in contemporary fashion. 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