Congolese Immigrant and Entrepreneur “Sews” Hope in Washtenaw County
Date: September 8, 2021
Owner of U4Hope
In 2011, at 34, Esperance Malonga was granted an American diversity visa. It was the fifth time she’d entered the lottery. “When I won, it felt like a dream come true,” said the Congolese native. “I’ve always wanted to raise a family and maybe even open my own business in America.” She left her job as a seamstress and relocated to Washtenaw County where she already had friends. She married her fiance, who was living in Canada at the time. Their relationship remained long distance for a few years until he relocated to Michigan. Initially, the couple focused on learning English and saving money. Esperance worked in housekeeping and manufacturing before she became a tailor at Macy’s. Esperance studied design at a French fashion school in Tunisia and always dreamed of opening her own custom clothing store. By 2019, she felt established enough in America to take the plunge. “It was hard work, but I got help,” she says. Esperance leaned on Washtenaw Community College’s Small Business Development Center, which helped her establish an LLC, obtain an employer identification number and get her business up and running. Today, Esperance runs U4hope, a clothing and alterations store at the Briarwood Mall. She sells African-print modern clothing for adults and children, all of which she designs and sews. “Many of my customers are African Americans looking for African-inspired clothing,” she says. “They are eager to learn about Africa. I share my clothing and my story with them. Many of my customers become like family to me.” Esperance has watched the local community welcome her family. She and her husband are raising three happy children. She credits the community’s support for helping her achieve her creative and entrepreneurial dreams. To show her gratitude, she gives back by teaching sewing classes to children and adults. “I recently taught a woman who has never sewn before,” Esperance says. “She just made two skirts. I’m so proud of her.” Esperance, her husband and her children love their lives in Michigan.