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Congolese designer Esperance Malonga

A Macy's Tailor Gets a Store of Her Own.

Esperance Malonga's custom garments have European and African influences.

by Sabine Bickford

From the November, 2019 issue

Also at Briarwood, clothing and alterations store U4hope has been open since midsummer. Owner Esperance Malonga previously worked at Macy's alterations counter. On top of tailoring and creating custom pieces for her customers, Malonga also creates all the clothing for sale at U4hope using various African prints.

The store, down the mall's southern corridor toward Von Maur, displays racks of jackets, dresses, and children's clothing, all designed and sewn entirely by Malonga. Toward the back is a display of bright printed fabrics that customers can pick out for custom pieces. Malonga, noting a silky lavender fabric she has at her sewing machine, adds that customers can bring their own fabric. She does all of her sewing while she tends the store--the counter houses two sewing machines and sits in front of a large shelf filled with colorful spools of thread.

Malonga is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In high school she began focusing on sewing and design, and in 2007 she went to Tunisia to study design at a branch of the French fashion school ESMOD.

Malonga moved back to the Congo in 2010 and ran her own clothing store there until she was selected as one of the American diversity visa "lottery winners." The program was established in 1990 to let a small number of immigrants into the U.S. from countries that have low immigration rates. In 2018, around 23 million people applied for 55,000 slots.

Malonga beams at the memory of finding out she had won the lottery on her fifth try, especially because it allowed her husband (who had been living on his own in Canada on a worker's visa) and children to come with her. "It was one of my dreams," she says.

Though Malonga uses fabrics from all over Africa, her training in Tunisia was in the French style. "You can find an African touch ... in the buttons and fabric," she says. "But the design is modern European."


...continued below...

says she is working on a number of prom dresses to display in the front window to show people her range. But Malonga also helps a lot of local African immigrants, as well as some African Americans, who are looking for something more traditionally African.

The side shelves are full of intricately beaded accessories from the Congo, South Africa, Kenya, and other countries. Many are made by her friends in the African fashion industry.

When she first opened the store, she hoped to keep her job doing alterations at Macy's, but she says Macy's told her she could not continue as an employee if she was running an alterations business in direct competition. That didn't stop her from remaining close with her coworkers--a flower displayed on her counter was a good-luck gift from her supervisor, and she hints that some customers may yet receive word of her new store when the Macy's counter is too busy to take them.

U4hope, 100 Briarwood Cir. (Briarwood mall). (734) 945-8085. Mon.-Sun. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in November, 2019.]


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