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'I wanted to create.' Self-funded refugee launches high-end fashion label in Kentucky

By Sarah Michels, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Fashion Daily News

LEXINGTON, Ky. - At first glance, local entrepreneur Albert Lukonga's story may seem like the idyllic "American Dream."

From childhood poverty to the successful launch of his own business in Lexington, one might label him as one of the few lucky refugee success stories.

But luck is just opportunity meeting months, years or even a lifetime of preparation, Lukonga said.

Lukonga, founder of Albert Couture, a high-end men's wear store, was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a central African country that has been plagued by political unrest and conflict for decades. At 10 years old, his family fled to a Zimbabwe refugee camp. He said the DRC's "survival of the fittest type of environment" had made it nearly impossible for his mother, a hardworking teller and fashion designer, to protect and feed the family of 10 children.

In Zimbabwe, Lukonga developed many of the skills and attitudes that have led to his success today. When he discovered his mother couldn't afford his tuition, he paid his way through school by making a deal with the headmaster. Since he had a talent for drawing, he offered to create detailed African animal sketches, about one large canvas a day, in exchange for free tuition.

His headmaster agreed, and ever since, Lukonga has organized his life around the act of creating.

 

When his family came to the United States in 2006, Lukonga's hard work didn't stop. He mastered English, his fifth language, played soccer for his high school and, always cognizant of his presentation, quickly became known as the best-dressed in the school, with impeccable manners to match.

Even at a young age, Lukonga knew how to sell himself.

That's what he's doing today with the Albert Couture label he has dreamt of opening since he was a child. In order to be a successful businessman, Lukonga said he has to emulate the lifestyle he is trying to sell. Even during quarantine, he said he has been laser-focused on staying in shape, eating right and sleeping well so he can best take care of his clients and business.

"I'm selling confident, not selling suits or clothes," he said. "I dress them for the person they want to become in the future."

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