A&D Fashions has stayed on the fast track in the Lehigh Valley by embroidering the auto racing suits of disc jockey Bobby Gunther Walsh.
While Walsh talks on Whitehall-based WAEB-AM 790 each weekday morning, the people who do his stitching at A&D at 55 South 7th Street in Emmaus have developed a full load of other customers, including clothes with logos for South Parkland Soccer to Chesapeake Air Boat to U.S. Army Military Police.
Specializing in embroidery has helped them survive a shrinking market in the once vibrant garment industry.
“While we do Bobby Gunther Walsh’s uniform every two years, we do embroidery on many items such as hats, shirts, towels, baby blankets, pants and jackets,” said Nancy Chenevert, vice president of A&D.
“We met Bobby at mutual friend’s Daytona party, when he was just getting into racing a few years ago. My husband, Wayne (Chenevert, company president), used to go to his races and help him a little on his car. Bobby is very serious about it. He enjoys doing it. He’s not the top driver on the track, but he enjoys it.”
An irony is that one of her daughters also caught the auto racing bug.
“My daughter, Dawn, became interested in quarter-midget racing when she was 10,” she said. “She’s now 30. We used to go up to Grandview Raceway (in Bechtelsville, Berks County) over Saturday…We raced quarter-midgets for seven years at Blue Mountain Raceway in Berlinsville.”
With all this activity, many might believe A&D is at the top of the hill in the industry. But the hill is rather short these days.
Nancy Chenvert grew up in Honesdale, an area once rich in garment work, and she became a sewing machine operator before attending East Stroudsburg University with a degree in math.
She married Wayne, who was a sewing machine mechanic. It was natural that they brought a sewing business to the Lehigh Valley and found a home in Bethlehem.
“Right now, he’s driving a bus for First Student, a local bus company,” she said. “In the early 1980s, the outlook four our industry seemed good. He had some contacts. But they dwindled away fast in the late 1980s.”
Truth is, since opening on the second floor of a former machine shop in Emmaus in 1982, employment had dropped from a high of 40 people to two.
A&D, named for daughters Anne and Dawn, was originally a “cut and sew” contract sewing factory. But when “work went south,” Nancy Chenevert said, they remade A&D.
The employee drop wasn’t A&D’s fault. The whole American garment industry has taken a hit from competition in China and Mexico, with much of the blame going to the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s.
According to a recent report by Elliot R. Morss, an expert on global finance from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, jobs in the garment industry in the United States dropped by 78 percent from 1978 to 2007.
The two people remaining at A&D are Nancy Chenevert and embroidery expert Liza Schoch.
“With Lisa, we can keep the sewing machines going out there,” Nancy Chenevert said. “And I do the digitizing,’’ using computers to design the embroidering.
“Knock wood, this will hold on.”
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