Lululoko started as a painter and then studied with master craftsmen in Florence. Now he has an atelier in the center of Florence, selling clothes and paintings, and working on social inclusion projects with local communities.
Lululoko's entrepreneurial journey
Luloloko started his work life as a painter. After university, he studied with master craftsmen in Florence. He spent two years with a master goldsmith and one and a half years in tailoring and leather goods. With the help of these masters, he opened a small atelier selling clothes and paintings.
After a few years, Luloloko started cooperating with local associations implementing social projects, and he opened his atelier activities for migrant women (mainly asylum seekers).
Recently, he took part in the “Woman’s value” project with the association Arcobaleno. His work and the atelier are now closely linked and associated with social projects and Luloloko has become ‘the person’ to contact for migrants seeking a job in this sector.
Luloloko saw a gap in the market and took the opportunity. “Being a foreigner myself, I realised that Florence lacked a store for African people. I would often meet African women who would ask me to create clothes for them. At that time, I was also working in an art school and the students themselves often asked me where they could buy African fabrics in Florence. The director of the school herself had urged me to open my own store. Eventually, I decided to open it in 2016, first in Piazza Alberti, and then I moved to Borgo Pinti. I was fortunate to get to know the masters who worked downtown. After years of working in their workshops, I had a lot of experience and I felt like having something of my own.”
Funding, especially paying the rent and covering all expenses, has been the biggest challenge for Luloloko. In the past, as a painter, he had tried to maintain his own atelier, but it wasn’t easy. However, in this sector – handicrafts and leather goods – one always manages to sell something, even if it’s small. After surviving the first year, it becomes easier. The landlord was also sympathetic about Luloloko’s social activism and he helped him with the rent.
Administration and accounting is never considered the easiest part of running a business, and it presented challenges for Luloloko. Initially, he wanted to hire somebody for this, but it was too expensive. To provide a solution, he set up an association with people he was working with, and together they cover administration and accounting. When needed, especially for complex issues, they look for external help and advice.
Luloloko says: “Being able to maintain activity in the centre of Florence is already a success. The centre of Florence is very well known for a certain type of activity and mine is a bit different, but for me, it is important to stay close to my masters.”
Over the years, Luloloko took a number of courses. Prior to opening his business, he attended training provided by the Chamber of Commerce; then he followed a training programme to improve his teaching skills for his social projects. “In my opinion, these courses are very useful because often the migrants have good skills and they know how to do a job, but they don’t know the rules and regulations – legal, administrative, fiscal, labour codes and so on. They also lack the cultural context, for example presenting oneself during the interviews. These courses should serve as an introduction in the Italian context so that those who want to open a business can adapt their skills to this context.”
“My priority is to continue with social projects with migrants. I would like my atelier, as an association, to become a place of reference for this kind of projects, and for that, I will clearly need a bigger space.”
Advice for prospective entrepreneurs
Luloloko is originally from Democratic Republic of Congo, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and he was already selling his paintings before he left. His mother was teaching sewing, but he only got interested in sewing after he arrived in Italy in 2009. Many people told him to move to Paris to work in fashion, but he always wanted to stay in Florence. Besides, Luloloko thinks that the foreign communities elsewhere are much bigger and much more structured, presenting fierce competition in his field of work, while in Florence, on the other hand, there is only Luloloko.