Today, October 17, is Alpha Industries’ 60th Anniversary as a brand. As part of our celebration, we’re looking to those who wear Alpha Industries with pride, ensuring we’re not just part of their wardrobe, but part of their identity. These people are our Everyday Heroes and we’re excited to share their stories. First up, CEO Mike Cirker. Mike is the third-generation CEO of Alpha Industries, continuing the legacy his father and grandfather before him.
As the third generation leading this company, what does Alpha mean for your personal story?
Mike Cirker- “Being part of a family business and carrying on the legacy of my grandfather and father before me is a remarkable opportunity. Some of my best childhood memories are family visits to the factories in Knoxville and watching the workers cut and sew jackets for the military. More than me, my mother Susan lived through the many decades of Alpha’s history and fondly reminisces over its contribution to the American military and evolution into the private sector. Her experience began in the late 50’s when her family moved down to Knoxville during her high-school years, and then back up to Washington D.C. after marrying my father and they strategically relocated Alpha HQ near the Pentagon and Department of Defense. And today she watches me, her son and third generation family-member, pivot the business into commercial fashion, and move major operations up to New York’s garment district.”
How does Alpha manage to stay true to their roots, but still relevant to the fashion-forward consumers?
Mike Cirker- “Offering a range of fashion-forward products, while remaining true to the heritage is the secret sauce behind Alpha Industries. To ensure we don’t stray too far from our roots, all design begins in the archives. Our designers have access to the private archive collection of Alpha historical pieces and mil-spec documentation. They select various silhouettes, fabrics and trims and merge them with contemporary trend. We ensure every piece has recognizable characteristics that are attributable to an authentic heritage piece. Whereas most companies simply knock off a historical item, Alpha can tell you where the item or detail came from and why it was necessary for the warfighter.”
How does the heritage of Alpha continue to influence the present and future of the company?
Mike Cirker- “The heritage of Alpha Industries will always influence the present and future of the company in almost every part of the business. Product design and manufacturing are most obvious in the aesthetic, manufacturing techniques, and quality of the garments. Brand marketing must always be grounded in heritage with certain imagery, copy or the general theme. But perhaps less obvious are the little ways that my family values influence our decisions including the people we hire, the goals and expectations we set, and the family-oriented company culture we maintain.”
What are the main pillars of the brand that everyone should respect and follow when working in Alpha?
Mike Cirker- “The main pillars of the brand that have existed in one way or another since its inception in 1959 include purpose, quality and integrity. ‘Born of Purpose’ is more than a slogan, it was a founding principal to manufacture products for a practical purpose in the military. Premium quality was a mandate from the government and a responsibility held personally by my predecessors to ensure the safety of the American warfighter in combat. And integrity was ultimately the differentiator behind Alpha’s long tenure and success over its competition. My grandfather and father after him insisted on fair and transparent dealings with the government, which bled into our work with vendors and customers in the contemporary commercial space. All Alpha staff understands that longevity and continuity of the brand are the principal goals over profit, and they trust in the three pillars.”
Which jacket story fascinates you the most?
Mike Cirker- “The M-65 Field Coat is a very interesting story related to Alpha. By the 60’s the field coat worn by ground combat troops has not changed much since World War II. The jackets were made of cotton with low-grade metal zips and limited room for carrying objects like weapons and maps. The Pentagon formed a team of companies, Alpha-included, to develop an update to the field coat that was more universally effective to the modern warfighter. Alpha co-developed with the government the special new nylon/cotton sateen fabric called NYCO that was water, wind and tear-resistant. Alpha added brass hardware for strength and durability, a concealed hood, and cuffs that were adaptable to anti-radiation gloves. But most significant of all was Alpha’s M-65 introduced the concept of the system field jacket to the military. At the time the American military was engaging in Vietnam with a climate of hot days and cold nights. Alpha developed the M-65 with a removable liner to accommodate the men and women in this variable condition. Alpha’s M-65 Field Coat is virtually indestructible, and even 60 years later still performs with the best in class.”
What was the reason behind moving from military outerwear to the commercial market?
Mike Cirker- “The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the end of the cold war with the Soviet Union. As peacetime rolled in the government had less need for product, and thus almost every company operating in the military-contracting space went out of business. Alpha was unique in that it had developed a small commercial business since the late 1970’s when veterans returning from Vietnam wanted replacement jackets and garments issued during their service. They wanted nothing but the best, the real McCoy. Alpha naturally developed a commercial surplus business globally, and fortuitously this was the saving grace behind the military cutbacks of the 1990’s.”
Fashion and trends change so fast, how have you managed to keep Alpha at the forefront of culture after 60 years?
Mike Cirker- “Alpha has been able to stay on trend and the forefront of culture by owning the military-inspired trend. Military has always, and will always be an important trend in fashion. Alpha is the leader in authentic military-heritage, and therefore is the key brand behind interpreting any contemporary trend through a military lens. This coveted position is apparent to us whenever a military trend spikes, like a bomber jacket or a camouflage print, because the biggest brands in the world always come asking for collaboration. The next 60 years will bring so much change and excitement, just as the past 60 years have done. Alpha must maintain its core brand and business principles to remain relevant. We will invest in people and technology. We will embrace new concepts and business models. And we will always keep close to our roots, the American military, and the men and women who serve."