Aime Mulungula ’25 knows firsthand that artistic talent needs support and resources to succeed. Now in his second year at UConn, the young artist is channeling his skills and business acumen to build a brand and support system for other young creatives, with the goal of giving back to the community that raised him.
Mulungula has all the makings of a successful young UConn entrepreneur, including a fellowship at the Worth Institute and a research assistantship in the lab of management professor Ryan Coles, where he helped raise funds for black entrepreneurs in Connecticut. But he was an artist first.
“I started painting when I was in Tanzania,” says Mulungula, where he was born. “Ever since I can remember, really. But art was not taken seriously in my community in Tanzania.
His serious engagement with the visual arts began when his family moved to Connecticut when he was 11 years old. After settling in New Haven, Mulungula discovered places like NXTHVN, an arts incubator that offers paid apprenticeships for high school students (among other resources for creatives of all ages). NXTHVN nurtured Mulungula’s creativity and gave him gallery space during its annual Apprentice Performance.
Mulungula felt compelled to use her art to combat the stereotypes about Africa and Africans that she encountered among her high school classmates. As part of his apprenticeship, he also visited local classrooms to give presentations on modern life on the African continent. His gallery show was featured Portrait Leading African artists and thinkers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lupita Nyong’o and, rightly, herself.
These portraits are now wearable pieces of art, the latest extension of Mulungula’s brand Labon Studio. Le Bon, French for “good”, was also Mulungula’s given name (it became “Aime” during his paperwork shuffle with immigration to the United States). The title of his 2021 self-portrait “The Benevolent” calls back to this name, underlining the good that Mulungula sees his work achieving in the world.
Through Labon, Mulungula hopes to provide a framework for mentoring and income opportunities for young artists. The brand has a social media presence, an online space to showcase art and an e-store for art prints and apparel.
“I’m trying to show that you can make money from art,” says Mulungula. “For young artists, many of them will think, ‘I can’t do art, it doesn’t have a lot of income.’ So I am trying to break this mindset.
UConn’s Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation supports Lebon, as do courses in their School of Business. After a fresh year immersed in the business world, Mulungula finds it fun to once again focus on his artwork, letting his business knowledge drive his work as he goes.
Classroom lessons often lead to instant business changes, he says: “I apply what I’m learning to what I’m doing now. I’ll learn something and be like, let me go on Instagram, change my bio right now. I change what I post for the week based on what I learn in class.”
His studio art minor felt like the addition he needed to stay in touch with his creativity throughout college. Ultimately, Mulungula sees these two interests as making Labon a hub for young emerging artists, in the vein of NXTHVN—connecting them to real-world studios and gallery spaces, promoting their artwork on social media, and helping them raise their profile. creative world.
Giving back to his community is another goal for Labon.
“I know artists in my community, like me, who have never had the opportunity to explore and develop their creativity due to lack of resources. That is not fair. I thought, what if I become a resource for these young entrepreneurs and artists? says Mulungula. “Just give them everything they need to really grow as creative individuals.”
As the brand grows, it will continue to push social consciousness and focus on encouraging young creatives of color.
“This is a place where everything that you are is highlighted,” Labon promises.
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