When Kecia Escoe applied to ProsperUs Detroit, she had recently left a human resources management position with her long-time employer, Ticketmaster. It was while completing her thesis for a master’s human resources program, when an emotional life event led to her discovery of her genetic talent for quilting. Although Kecia was pursuing human resources consulting, she chose to also pursue the ProsperUS Detroit Entrepreneur Training Program at Focus: HOPE with trainer, Herb Drayton. An entrepreneur through and through, Kecia is also self-employed as a reflexologist. She practices from a mini spa she’s set up in her home and visits clients’ homes with most clients coming to her through word of mouth.
Kecia launched her quilting business, Umi’s Comfort, in 2003, following an emotional life event. To help with the healing process, she began drawing various images, then (seemingly) inexplicably figured out how to reproduce them in quilts. About 50 quilts in, while down south for a family reunion, her work was finally noticed by a cousin – one of her grandmother’s nieces – who offered her some quilting pieces called tops to use in her work. Kecia also has a sister who is a seamstress that designs and makes clothing. Kecia, nor her sister, were told of their rich lineage in quilting and sewing until Kecia had demonstrated she had developed the skill on her own.
The quilting art spans six generations of both of Kecia’s grandparents on her mother’s side of the family – back to her great-grandmother’s great, great grandmother – as well as sisters, nieces, aunts and cousins. Now when Kecia goes to family reunions, she adds to a family quilt, like the 135-year-old one from her grandfather’s side of the family. After Kecia fixed it up a bit, the family took it back to Georgia.
“I’d started my business. My goal was to grow and give me different avenues of how to market. A lot of the things that ProsperUS (taught,) I already knew. It was a good refresher. It gave me an opportunity to stand in front of people and present my business to them. That’s one thing that I had never done before. I would go out and talk to people individually, but to have an opportunity to speak to multiple people about my business was a plus.”
Although Kecia knew much of the information taught in the class, she used the one on one coaching to get information that was useful at her level of business acumen. “It was an opportunity for me to use everything that was provided for me. He did have me think of my business in a different way when I had my one on ones; as far as going online and that’s something that I’m still considering – considering that my business is more customized. I was looking for someone…or some organization to guide me to help me with my customization (as opposed to) me just making things and putting them out there. I wasn’t aware…, before being introduced to ProsperUs, about the environment that I’m living and working in (being)…nomadic. ProsperUs opened my eyes up to the realities of this region. So it’s made me sort of stretch my mind… to see how I could fit into that niche.”
Kecia, who is open to seeing other ways of approaching her business, uses vendor events as a marketing tool. She even worked with the ProsperUS Small Business Advisor, Chris Butterfield, to create a new business card design for use at vendor opportunities and in networking. She says, though it hasn’t been often, but when vending opportunities become available, she’ll take samples from her stash to display and also loop a stream of pictures on her iPad or laptop. “So it’s not me selling anything except what my business is and what I can provide. With vendors and other businesses, they’re looking to pay the booth fee, get a return on that and a profit. In my case, it’s been not a total loss, but I know it’s a loss up front, initially.” ProsperUS looks forward to working with Kecia further on a marketing plan that will help her reach more of her target audience.
Kecia‘s quilts are artistic history as well as precious keepsakes. She is currently designing a quilt about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that is chronicling the voyagebeginning in West Africa, the capture of African Americans in the United States, continuing through the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights movement, to today. Kecia’s work, both whole and sectionally, is registered with the Library of Congress. Although all her pieces aren’t this involved, she sees many of her quilt ideas as teaching moments.
For most customer orders, they are special mementos that may provide comfort to a graduate going away to college during their first extended separation from their mother. This is how she came up with the business name and tag line: ”Umi’s Comfort: Where comfort is always a perfect gift.”
Family is very important to Kecia, and her sons also help her with the quilting business. Her second son just completed his degree in mechanical engineering and helps her with design concepts. Her eldest son, who has has a degree in philosophy and economics, uses his IT and CAD design skills to help her with 3-D visualization. Her youngest son is the salesman, who enjoys going with her to vending opportunities.
Ultimately, Kecia is looking to train women committed to becoming socially impactful business owners. While Kecia is still working to overcome a few challenges, she is a great teacher and an inspiration.