Olga Ngalula was a financial officer and local seamstress in the Democratic Republic of Congo before being forced to flee her country. Olga and her family were resettled in the United States in August of 2015 and began rebuilding their lives in the greater Atlanta area.
Amidst the struggles of cultural and social integration that all refugees face, Olga made it a point to continue designing traditional Congolese clothing to share with her newfound community. Olga was working in health care during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when she decided to apply her skills as a seamstress to make custom face masks! She began selling within her community and soon after began sending masks all across Georgia!
Olga channeled this success into a full-scale business. Her alterations and custom design clothing business–Mke Mwema (“Good Wife”)– specializes in traditional Congolese, Rwandan, and Burundi style clothing for men and women.
When it’s time to expand my client base, purchase more inventory, or just work on a problem I’m having with my business, the IRC is always available to help!
— Olga Ngalula, founder of Mke Mwema
Olga shared that it was a challenge to develop a strong, consistent client base and she struggled to market her products. She said, “When it’s time to expand my client base, purchase more inventory, or just work on a problem I’m having with my business, the IRC is always available to help!” The IRC in Atlanta’s Microenterprise Development (MED) program was also able to help Olga apply for a $20,000 loan to help scale her business and invest in marketing.
When asked about her favorite parts of being a business owner, she shared, “I love seeing people happy! Exchanging cultures is a part of being American, and I enjoy being a part of that exchange.” In Fall 2021, Olga was commissioned by IRC supporter and then Mrs. Georgia America, Darcy Castro, to design and create a stunning custom gown for her to wear at the Mrs. America pageant in Las Vegas. Over a series of fittings, Olga created a classic formal dress with a pop of traditional, colorful Congolese fabric and Darcy was thrilled with the final result. She found the unique gown to be an excellent conversation piece—especially around the importance of welcoming refugees—at the national event.
The biggest business in the world started small—have hope!
—Olga Ngalula, founder of Mke Mwema
Olga shared words of wisdom for other refugee and immigrant business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs: “The biggest business in the world started small—have hope! Be honest with yourself and your community and use your business as an opportunity to integrate and build community!”
Much of our MED program’s success is made possible by Georgia community members who support these growing businesses—as volunteers, donors, interns, mentors and patrons. We know that refugees bring many skills, strengths and talents with them as they rebuild their lives in the United States, and we are honored to support these entrepreneurial and resilient individuals in the pursuit of their own American dream.
You can support Olga and enjoy her fabulous clothing designs and alteration services by placing your order from Mke Mwema at 707-568-3747.
Are you a business owner or aspiring entrepreneur in Georgia? To learn more about the IRC in Atlanta's Microenterprise Development (MED) program, or to access our MED services, please contact [email protected].
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Senior Development Manager, Heloise Ahoure, at [email protected] or 678-636-8941.
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