Gerald & Stewart Webber, present day owners/operators of Fidelity Sportswear, have been involved with the company for as long as they can remember. We were thrilled to get the chance to catch up with them (running between the factory and their offices downstairs) to hear first hand about the Webber family’s history, starting with Gerry & Stu’s father, Edward Webber.
When did your father first join Fidelity Sportswear?
Gerry: There was a prior owner named Joe Menino. My father was working as a salesman for a trucking company and an apparel company because trucking was very important to get the goods to the stores. I’m going to guess that this occurred …about 66 years ago. I was three or four years old and I was at one of the original meetings. It was held right near an elevator shaft in a building on Harrison Avenue where Fidelity Sportswear actually started, which is now part of the SOWA district in Boston. After that [Fidelity] went to 1140 Washington Street, which was kind of interesting because the building was maybe about a block away from where Joe Menino and Tony Burnetta were when the company was started, one as a stitcher and one of them as a leather cutter. So I would say 66 years ago is when my dad joined the company as a salesman.
Stu: The company was already going as a small loft and doing specific orders for customers as opposed to having an actual line [when my dad got involved]. A customer of theirs for one reason or another wasn’t able to or didn’t want to take some merchandise that Joe Menino needed to sell because they had invested money in the materials and labor. Somehow there was a connection made to my father who was a salesman for another company. They invited him in and showed him the merchandise. He looked in it an said “Yeah, I can sell it.” A few days later he came back with an order for all of the goods. He said, “If you make more of it, I can sell more of it,” and that kind of developed the company into making up goods in a line versus being a contractor making goods for a specific order.
How did your father’s role change over the years?
G: In 1961 one of the original partners whose name was Anothony Burnetta decided he wanted to leave the business and my dad bought in as a full partner at that time. So 1961 was when my dad became a partner in the company, but prior to that he was involved in many aspects of the business.
S : Originally, in that process prior to ’61, my father worked with Joe Menino and obviously Tony Burnetta and developed the sales for the company. He was the only salesman for the company and developed strong sales through New England and New York. And really, wherever he went he seemed to not only have customers, but they also became friends. And the relationship was so mutual and respectful between both Joe Menino and my father. For Joe Menino, when his partner wanted to quit, it became a natural thing to offer to my father to actually buy in. So he really continued to sell Joe Menino. By and large, he [Joe] was handing a lot of the inside and my father did all of the sales. But because you weren’t as busy full time [with sales], my father would come in and actually be working in whatever needed to be done inside the factory at that point. So he not only sold, but he would come in and make sure goods were being made correctly, help with shipping and whatever else needed to be done on the inside.
Describe your first involvement in the company.
G: Boy, I think my first involvement was at 10 or 11 years old. I would come in and pack coats and ship ’em out. So that sort of shows you the integral nature of the family from the earliest days because we would ship and we would pack coats. I remember coming home from my senior prom — I must have been 17 years old — and I rolled in at about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and at 6 o’clock in the morning I was up because we had to press coats in the morning. So I was on the pressing machine at 7 o’clock in the morning pressing coats for the shipments that had to be made.
S: My memory is I was in the shipping room but I had a broom in my hand sweeping and cleaning. That’s my earliest memories, yeah. :)
G: But it’s also interesting, our daughters were also involved in the business — and I really only learned about this maybe 5 or 6 years ago after my dad passed on — when my youngest daughter came in to work, my father would have her sharpen his pencils and she would get paid a dollar to sharpen each pencil and she thought that was the greatest part of all. Course the other granddaughters didn’t get paid and they were very upset when they heard about this. *laughs*
Did you ever expect to build a brand label named after you? How do you feel about it?
G: We sort of laugh at ourselves sometimes when people ask how we came up with the name Gerald & Stewart. It probably would have been the last name we ever would have come up with. This really came to us from Japan where we’ve done business for over 30 years.
Tell us about the Fidelity Owl.
The Fidelity Owl.
S: Who? *big chuckles*
G: I guess the Fidelity owl came out of a period of time when, except for the Geico that is so prominent now, it was not uncommon to have some animal or some bird associated with a lot of products. I had no influence on that whatsoever. The tagline for Fidelity used to be, “Be wise. Buy Fidelity” and by was spelt b-u-y… It was a subliminal message. I’d have to blame Joe Menino and Anthony Berdetta because my dad inherited it as well. I would say it was in the early age. The early days.