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East Boston’s Sterlingwear — Italian roots, American pride

Sterlingwear of Boston is the classic American company. They are a solidly rooted family company, stable in their dealings, bold in their approach and committed to building one of the best American-made brands ever produced right here in East Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1918 many Italians migrated to America in search of the “American Dream”. Lorenzo Fredella was one of them. Shipbound for America, his dream was to find work to support his family and make his mark in this world. As difficult as it was for Lorenzo and the millions of other immigrants that left their humble beginnings, Lorenzo made sure to take his opportunity in America and reap what the country had to offer. With the help of family already settled on this side of the Atlantic, he first found work in a New York clothing factory owned by his cousin, where he started off performing odd jobs and maintenance. In the meantime, however, he was working toward his goal to launch his own enterprise.

Lorenzo moved to Massachusetts after the company relocated to Lawrence, Massachusetts. He married and started his family of five children, never losing site of his dream and hoping that his children would one day join him.
Struggling through rough times throughout the Crash of 1929 and the start of WWII, he was fortunate that his then employer Picariello and Singer managed to stay afloat. In fact, during the war, the company’s focus was the production of uniforms for the U.S. armed forces. At the young age of 16, his son Frank worked part time with him while attending Boston University. It was Frank who encouraged his dad to pursue his dream of a “Fredella family company”. As fearful as this sounded to Lorenzo, especially since he had experienced firsthand the sufferings of the Depression, he agreed with his son and together they formed Viking Clothing, Inc., in 1965, along with another son, Anthony. With strong work ethics, a growing economy and — as some Italians would say — “a little luck” it certainly was their time to move forward. The company initially started with cut-and-sew contracting for other retailers and clothing makers. However, within a competitive bidding process, Viking won a government contract to become the exclusive maker of the peacoat for the United States Navy. This lucrative deal prompted Viking to file for other government contracts for a wide range of military uniforms, thus changing the name to reflect their almost exclusive military clothing to “Vi-Mil (Viking Military). This was all happening in East Boston.

As times were changing the company’s vision of expansion was growing as well. In the 1980’s they purchased an existing company with a strong line of rainwear and outerwear called Sterlingwear of Boston. The idea was to expand into commercial fashion. Thanks to Sterlingwear, they soon began selling through Army/Navy Surplus Stores. The peacoat was being sold to civilians as it was an item that easily crossed over to everyday wear.
Winning another contract for military raincoats helped the company thrive during the tumultuous ’80s and ’90s.
In 2005, Sterlingwear moved to 175 McClellan Highway, a site owned and maintained by the Bulgroup Companies, from its former location on Orleans Street, East Boston. The Orleans Street building was under a sale agreement that incidentally fell through. According to Jack Foster, Director of Marketing and Sales, Sterlingwear had already made its move to its new location and found the new location to be more conducive to their production environment with its spaciousness and loading docks, which also included space for its newest retail store. “We are very happy at 175 McClellan Highway and it truly was a win win situation for us,” said Foster. He jokingly recounts the story when he was told to start looking for a new place from Frank Fredella, President and CEO. “I was thinking of moving to Fall River or New Bedford where we were literally handed too good to be true opportunities, but that was squashed as soon as I made mention of that to Frank. Frank simply looked at me and said, we can’t move out of East Boston. We would put 300 people out of work here. We can’t do that to them… they have families… they rely on me and I rely on them… find me a place here.”

And so he did.

The location now boasts its latest retail addition launched at the beginning of the month. Their commercial line features the same made in the USA craftsmanship, heritage and family-owned pride sewn into every garment. “Like the little black dress or black tie, every wardrobe needs the peacoat; the timeless classic that always looks smart,” said May Aye, Sterlingewear of Boston Designer.
Frank Fredella can often be spotted walking around the manufacturing plant overseeing the production and chatting with his employees, with many still employed for over thirty years. He takes great pride in his work and it shows. The company is still family owned and operated. His daughter Gina Tenaglia is Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and nephew David is Vice President, Chief Operating Officer. His son Larry Fredella is President of Old School Chopper, a motorcycle-inspired clothing line, which is a division of Sterlingwear of Boston.
Along with the East Boston location, Sterlingwear of Boston retail stores are also in Braintree, Massachusetts, and Nashua, New Hampshire; as well as online at www.sterlingwear.com.
Sterlingwear is also very charitable, on this particular day volunteers were collecting coats as part of the Winter Coat Drive that benefits, “Voices Against Violence, Lazarus House, Heading Home and Friends of Boston’s Homeless.”
Sterlingwear is a company built by a family dedicated to people, quality and integrity.
It was Lorenzo’s hard work, inspiration and dreams that made Sterlingwear the success that it is today. He passed on his ideals to his family who never lost sight of Lorenzo’s goals. He provided for his family, he became a success. He gave back to the country that made his family the successful and generous people that they are today.
The Fredella’s got the most out of America and never forgot that. They are the epitome of the American Dream and they continue to provide for those who are now seeking that same “American Dream”.

About Lisa Cappuccio

Lisa is an East Boston resident who works in the area of media and public relations. She is President of Italia Unita Inc. of Massachusetts, a non-profit organization that promotes Italian culture and heritage. Lisa worked and volunteered in the areas of public relations, community development, film, politics, and radio. Through Italia Unita, Lisa initiated the grass roots effort to have Comcast Cable add RAI television, which is now available as a premium channel. Lisa is the president of Boston Concepts, a full service marketing and public relations agency.