Alpha Industries x 3sixteen.
Photos: Ray Spears
It’s hard to believe this is our fifteenth year as a brand; it seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating our tenth. Just like then, we’re choosing to commemorate this milestone with a series of collaborations with partners new and old. We’re starting the festivities with three pieces we developed with Alpha Industries. This was one of the longest processes to create a set of pieces that we’ve undertaken in our brand’s history, and we feel it really underscores how far we’ve come, as well as the possibilities ahead. With this in mind, we thought it would be worth diving into the collection a little bit more in our blog. This “behind the scenes” look will consist of two parts: the first focuses on the process of collaboration and decision-making that led to the final products, and the second will explore the inspirations behind our choice of models, and what they represent to us.
The collaboration is centered around three iconic pieces, an M-65 field coat, a compatible M-65 Defender liner that can be worn on its own, and an M-59 fishtail parka. We worked tirelessly with Alpha Industries to interpret them in a way that respected and honored their original forms, while making them truly 3sixteen. Below, you’ll hear from Steve Sun, the Product Development Manager at Alpha Industries (who led their team through this process), as well as Wesley Scott, one of the designers here at 3sixteen.
As with many relationships we’ve built over the years, we were connected to Alpha Industries through mutual friends. Straight off, we wanted to play to the fat part of Alpha Industries’ bat; something that’s core to their DNA and history. As Steve Sun puts it:
"Alpha Industries was one of the first military contractors to make the M-65 Field Coat during the Vietnam War. The M-65 was special in that it was one of the first pieces of outerwear for the military to use the heavyweight NYCO fabric (50% nylon / 50% cotton). Alpha Industries' M-59 Fishtail is based off of the U.S. Military’s M-65 Fishtail, which was also used during the Vietnam War; it was worn as an outer layer and sometimes with a removable liner."
We settled onto these two models pretty quickly (more on why in Part Two). With the styles set, it was time to get to work on the pattern and details - first and foremost the fabric. As Steve mentioned, NYCO is the traditional fabric for the M-65, and it offers a hard-wearing weather resistance. We wanted to flip that a little and use a fabric that offers a little more potential to wear in and that has a more vintage feel, so we went with a herringbone twill (HBT) from Japan. It’s the same fabric we used in our latest iteration of the Fatigue Overshirt, and offers a softer, broken-in handfeel. HBT has a particular history with the American military during World War II, replacing denim (!) for use in fatigue duties and eventually becoming the preferred primary uniform material for hot weather worldwide, and particularly the tropical climates our troops faced in the Pacific Theater.
The use of camouflage emerged at the same time as HBT - most notably the “frogskin” camo (sharp-eyed 3sixteen fans will note that we used this pattern for our HBT Fatigue Overshirt in FW16). As much as we love that pattern, we wanted to find a more original way of making the pieces stand out. Indigo made a lot of sense because it ages beautifully in a completely different way and also pays tribute to the fact that these clothes are, in essence, workwear tailored to a specific purpose. We went with an indigo-dyed yarn - and to help kickstart the vintage feel, we washed the fabric lightly to start bringing out the intense brighter blues we all love to see as indigo breaks down. The rest will be up to the wearer, and we look forward to seeing the results.
With the M-65 liner, we decided we wanted something that could stand on its own visually. We kept the onion quilting and cuffs that were traditional to the piece, and switched out the stock nylon fabric for the Japanese back satin we used in our BDU shirt from last season. Its slight irregularity gives it a subtle texture, and we made it black to keep it versatile (and add a small dose of New York flavor - more on that in Part Two).
Steve and the Alpha Industries team had been wanting to do a Made in USA product for years, which presented an exciting challenge. Since 3sixteen production is based stateside, we had the capabilities. We also had a strong vision for how we wanted the pieces to fit. The reality is, the patterns Alpha Industries uses for their own productions are under strict lock and key - a “secret sauce” developed over decades of production experience and working knowledge of working within military specifications. That said, the Alpha team was fully committed to do everything possible to make us successful, while also keeping the end result authentically Alpha. The solution we devised was to take apart a stock M-65 field coat and M-59 parka, and start rebuilding the pattern from the pieces. This required communicating constantly with the Alpha Industries team and getting feedback to make sure we stayed true.
As Wesley Scott describes:
"This was one of the longest processes to create a garment (from pattern to final sample) that I think we have done. We produced a lot of samples. The first sample was really us doing everything we had initially imagined, no holds barred. We took that to Alpha and they gave us very detailed feedback, and the reasoning behind that feedback. For example, if we want to slim the arm on the M-65, this has to be done very carefully, or the armhole will be uncomfortable and also affect how the shoulders sit. These patterns are very complicated, and Alpha was a huge asset to guiding us through the process to achieve the results we wanted - because they’ve worked so intensely with these patterns for so long, they understand how every small change will affect the final product. We initially wanted to pare down the jacket details and slim the fit considerably - like most of our products that are a re-imagining of a classic piece - and what we realized is that there’s a certain history to these pieces that could only be changed so much."
Steve echoed the importance of this dialogue to achieving the desired result:
"Throughout the whole development process, I worked with Andrew and Wesley to make sure all designs were historically accurate, such as the placement of liner buttons, the fit of the shoulder on the M-59 Fishtail, and more."
Steve is being typically modest - his team’s understanding was crucial to the success of this project, as illustrated by the story of that shoulder. As Wesley recalls:
"I remember that discussion - we were working out the fit of the fishtail to hopefully fit the M-65 liner, but what we quickly realized was: if you manipulate the silhouette of the parka in any way, it really loses its appeal. The M-65 is built so perfectly for the liner to button into, and trying to translate that liner to the parka ruins the lines and shape of the jacket. Working with Steve and the entire Alpha team was so fascinating because they really take the history and features of the jackets so seriously and they understand why every inch of the jacket is the way it is. Since we re-engineered the fits of the pieces from the ground up, we had to spend a lot of time working through the details with them. I have a newfound appreciation for the thought that goes into military garments."
Alpha Industries also provided trims, and of course their special M-65 labeling - but it’s their spirit of partnership and true collaboration that shines through brightest in these pieces.
Other than the pattern, we also worked closely with our factories to make sure that no detail went overlooked. The onion quilting pattern on the liner is distinctive, and uncommon in the garment world. We were able to work with our factory on getting it just right - it’s easily recognizable as an M-65 liner, and you wouldn’t know that it was manufactured by someone who didn’t have experience working with that technique. It was a long journey, and a rewarding one. Wesley reflects:
"I am confident that we achieved our original intentions, although it took more than we expected. The evolution from the first fit sample to the final product was huge."
We did succeed in realizing what we wanted to achieve from the start: an updated 3sixteen fit with a careful editing of details to keep the final product true to the original pieces and Alpha Industries’ history. The M-59 parka is fitted on top and flares elegantly to its tail, and you can also size up for a more traditional, oversized, fishtail fit. The M-65 field coat is subtly slimmed down and given a more minimal interpretation, with some of the pleating removed and the dimensions of the pockets tweaked just slightly.
Each of our collaborations is different, and we’ll always remember this for the collective work it took to re-engineer these pieces into something true to both 3sixteen and Alpha Industries. Special thanks to Steve Sun, Angelyn Fernandez, Matt Pantoja and Josh Lebowitz at Alpha Industries for their passion, expertise, and partnership along this journey. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our good friend Allan Abillar at Nutty Rice Showroom for making the initial introduction to Alpha and helping to bring this project to fruition. We hope that you enjoy and appreciate the fruits of our hard work - it was a labor of love.
The Alpha Industries x 3sixteen Capsule Collection is scheduled to release on Friday, February 23rd via select retailers worldwide and 3sixteen.com. Please note that the majority of our allotment will launch on 3sixteen.com at noon EST on 2/23, but we have also reserved units specifically for our LA flagship store, which opens at 11am PST.
Only 100 units of each style were produced; the M-65 Field Jacket and M-59 Fishtail Parka will retail for $550, while the Liner Jacket will retail for $300. They can be found via the retailers below:
3sixteen LA (Los Angeles, CA)
Franklin & Poe (Philadelpha, PA)
Two Jacks Denim (Oakland, CA)
Scout (Chattanooga, TN)
Self Edge (San Francisco, CA)
Self Edge (New York, NY)
Self Edge (Los Angeles, CA)
Self Edge (Portland, OR)
Snake Oil Provisions (Long Beach, CA)
Vestis (Pittsburgh, PA)
Denim Heads (Prague)
Park & Province (Toronto)
Rivet & Hide (London)
Up There (Melbourne)
Alpha Industries (Online)
Withered Fig (Online)