KANSAS CITY, Mo. — John Pryor didn’t think he had much in common with Esther Sung six months ago. Pryor is a Midwesterner who runs a furniture art studio called Madison Flitch. Sung is a refugee, mother of three, from Myanmar who landed in the United States 10 years ago.
They met this spring with the COVID-19 pandemic forced Pryor to temporarily close his studio. He decided to make face masks instead and asked agencies like Catholic Charities to find stitchers. Sung heard about the opportunity at church, where her husband, David Tho, is the pastor.
Now, Pryor and Sung are designing handbags together while laughing in the workshop of a brand new business born from the face mask making venture: Madison Stitch.
“We have incredible abilities just within our community and it comes from places and parts of the city you’d never expect,” Pryor said.
The new business provides new opportunities to Sung and other refugees making bags and face masks at Madison Stitch.
“Our community has a lot of difficulties finding jobs because we don’t read, we don’t speak English, and that’s become a big barrier,” Tho, who does speak English, said.
Pryor sees Madison Stitch as a platform to showcase the hidden talents refugees and American stitchers bring to Kansas City.
“Life would be very boring without art in our lives,” he said.
Each stitcher at Madison Stitch has designed their own bag. That includes Amelia Clark, who just graduated from UMKC with a doctorate in musical arts.
“Since I have degrees in music and performing and stuff, it’s sad that all of that is closed, but I have a chance to be creative in a different way here,” Clark said.
While working at Madison Stitch, Clark and Pryor have learned a few things themselves.
“As a business owner in a pandemic, you feel a certain amount of stress and anxiety and worry you’re going to fail,” Pryor said. “Then you come across a refugee community which has greater struggles and also facing the same things we are in the pandemic, it puts things in perspective for us.”
It turns out Pryor and Sung have more in common than meets the eye.
“We’re really happy because we feel at home because the people are welcoming and accepting us as we are,” Tho said.
Madison Stitch is located at 507 E 16th St., Kansas City, MO.
Pryor reopened his furniture showroom earlier this month. Madison Flitch is right next door to Madison Stitch.
We've created a Facebook group, We're Open Kansas City, where members of the community can post businesses serving their community.