A once abandoned garage in the Nardin Park neighborhood is now a business storefront, filled with colorful, custom-made quilts by Umi’s Comfort.
A quilt constructed with old socks on a blue fabric with waves hangs on the wall of the store on Petoskey Avenue. Hand woven rope bowls sit on a shelf. Nearby, is a sparkly green-tiled shower for hand washing quilts. The small shop is warm from an electric fireplace on one wall. The floors are new hardwood. Fabrics and thread are tucked into every corner.
Owner Kecia Escoe was able to transform the garage into her business’ first storefront with a $50,000 award from the city’s Motor City Match program. Escoe grew up in the neighborhood, and still lives there.
“This area is considered a dead zone,” she told BridgeDetroit. “So why not try to bring it back to life in my own way? I can reach out to more community members here.”
Before the storefront, Escoe had spent nearly two decades making quilts in her basement.
To create unique and thoughtful quilts, Escoe interviews her customers about the people the quilts are being made for. Escoe said she prefers to hand stitch “because it’s more intimate” and “precise,” but if her hands get tired, she switches to a machine. In the store, her favorite quilt is a large one, made of blue jeans and fabrics from Senegal. She calls it “strength and resilience” and said it represents the diversity of African people and the strength that they all have together.
Many of the quilts are created from used material, such as jeans or clothing.
While the quilts take center stage at Umi’s Comfort, Escoe also makes cotton rope bowls, and pillows out of old clothing. She offers cleaning and restoration services for quilts that could be ruined if put in a washing machine, and she teaches people how to quilt, from ages 10 to 110, she said.
Detroit resident Asiyah Muhammad and her granddaughter took a virtual class last year with Escoe.
“Sister Kecia is an amazing instructor and worthy of all accolades,” Muhammad told BridgeDetroit. Muhammad didn’t have any prior experience with quilting but with Escoe’s expertise was able to make a quilt for her granddaughter’s bed. “It really helped me get through COVID because we couldn’t go out,” Muhammad said. “It really helped me mentally.”
Umi’s Comfort is self-billed as the only quilting business in the City of Detroit. To establish the store in Nardin Park, Escoe said she had to collect signatures from her neighbors to show that she had community support, and go through the city’s zoning board.
Umi’s Comfort is one of nearly 150 brick and mortar stores that have opened up through Motor City Match, a partnership between the City of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to help entrepreneurs develop their businesses. To date, the fund has awarded more than $10 million to 1,600 businesses in Detroit. The program has also faced some scrutiny related to its oversight, spending and documentation, which in recent years, resulted in HUD officials asking Detroit to temporarily suspend its use of federal funds for Motor City Match. Additionally, a review by the city’s Office of Inspector General found more money was being spent on marketing and consultation for the program than providing assistance for small business owners. Nevertheless, the program continues to operate, offering crucial assistance to small business owners.
“I’m expecting booming business right here,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony this month for Escoe’s shop.
“When we started this program, I envisioned that vacant storefronts on commercial streets would get transformed into businesses. But what Kecia Escoe has done here, I never imagined. She took a vacant garage and turned it into a business,” he said. “Whether you want a special quilt made for you, or you have a longtime family quilt that you want restored, there is no more talented quilter than Kecia Escoe. She is from this neighborhood, she is giving back to this neighborhood.”
Escoe said the business is “surprisingly welcomed” and she didn’t anticipate so many people would be excited about it.
“Generally with artists, if you’re excited about it doesn’t necessarily mean someone else will, so it feels complete,” she said.