From Tanzania to Palo Duro, a young entrepreneur pursues the American Dream

I decided to bet on myself,” says Aloni Ndihokubwayo. This 2019 Palo Duro High School graduate is currently interning for a large clothing brand based in Dallas. He’s gaining exposure to every step of the retail process, from design and manufacturing to fulfillment and business management.

But unlike most interns, he’s not doing it because he hopes to someday be in the clothing business. Aloni is already in the clothing business. He has established a popular and rapidly growing clothing brand. 

He is doing it, now, today. He’s just trying to learn how to do it better.

Also, Aloni Ndihokubwayo is just 21 years old. But the rarity of a recent graduate launching and managing a successful clothing line is only part of the story. First, some history.

Culture Shock

For more than a decade starting in the 1990s, a civil war rocked the east-central African nation of Burundi. Hundreds of thousands died, and many desperate families fled the conflict only to end up in refugee camps in Tanzania. Aloni’s family was among them. He was born into one of those camps in 2000 and spent the first six years of his life there.

A connection to European Christian missionaries eventually helped Aloni’s father, Arthur Rukundo, find his way into the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, and in 2006, the family arrived in Dallas, Texas. “It was a culture shock,” Aloni says today. “Growing up in Africa, I just had not really seen buildings and cities and things of that nature.”

In fact, he’d only seen the temporary buildings of refugee camps. That’s all he knew.

The family spoke Kirundi and French and struggled to learn English, but a local refugee host family in the Metroplex took Aloni, his parents, and a younger sibling under their wing. Rukundo and his family began to adjust and find their place. A few years later, in 2012, Arthur heard about a job opportunity in Amarillo at the Tyson plant. “Because of the language barrier, it’s really hard for refugees to find a job, even if you have a degree,” Aloni explains.

But Aloni’s father took a chance on the job opportunity and moved to Amarillo on his own for a few months, where he connected to other families with ties to Tanzania or Burundi. “There were a lot of people within our community, people that our parents knew early. It was very comfortable moving here,” Aloni says. Eventually, he and the rest of the family joined Arthur, moving into an apartment complex in north Amarillo.

Aloni ended up at Travis Middle School. He had established close friendships in Dallas, but struggled to connect with peers in Amarillo. Even so, his English improved quickly. He got involved in school athletics. He became more confident, and began to understand how the move had been good for his family. But it was not until Aloni entered high school, attending Palo Duro, that he really began to come into his own.

“He has an effervescence,” says Tricia Evans, the English/Language Arts learning leader at Palo Duro. She’s been teaching for more than two decades but says she has rarely encountered a student as mature as Aloni—and she didn’t even have him as a student. “He’s just a kid that people are pulled toward. I noticed him in classes, in hallways. You can’t help but notice the sparkle,” she says.

Palo Duro has a high concentration of students from refugee families, and Evans typically encounters them because of the language barrier. But Aloni stood out because he learned and grew so quickly. 

Aloni said going to school in the presence of other refugee students was a big part of his education. “PDHS really influenced me to take pride that it’s OK to be different,” Aloni says. He interacted with other refugees there, students from Thailand, China and other parts of Africa. “I think the culture that’s being cultivated there is strong. It’s something I wish every high school had. When you’re young and exposed to different cultures, it helps you see from a different perspective. I didn’t know there could be such a huge difference in our stories. That’s something our community and our nation needs. It really influenced me.”

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Part of that influence came from an entrepreneurship class he took at Palo Duro during his junior year, taught by Russell Camp. Early in the semester, Camp asked class members to come up with an idea for a business they would like to start. Some students might not have taken this assignment as literally or seriously—most just want to turn in their homework and move on—but Aloni turned the question over and over in his mind. From Tanzania to Dallas, he’d watched Arthur, his dad, casually buy and sell things. Aloni really admired that spirit. But what might that look like for him, as a high schooler? 

What would he pursue, if given the chance? “That question just was on my mind all day. Everybody else was, like, ‘whatever’ but I really wondered what I could do,” Aloni remembers. He asked a friend about it, and the friend pointed out that Aloni had always enjoyed clothing and fashion. “What about T-shirts or a clothing brand?” the friend suggested. Aloni lit up at the idea.

Again, this was just homework. The “clothing brand” was a theoretical business idea for an entrepreneurship class. Aloni completed the assignment. 

But Aloni says the intensity that drove him in that assignment comes from a mindset unique to refugees like him. “[Being in] the United States definitely has given us opportunities to really, really do something better for ourselves and for our family. By taking advantage of education, by taking advantage of the things that are free here, we are able to succeed. When immigrants come here, they are not playing games. They’re driven. They are hungry,” he says.

Aloni was hungry, too, and he just couldn’t let go of the clothing company idea. It outlasted that assignment and that semester’s entrepreneurship class. He designed a few T-shirts and started selling them from his car and backpack, making personal deliveries to friends and family members.

That’s when Evans first encountered Aloni. She remembers hearing him talk about his clothing company aspirations when he started selling shirts. “These weren’t the typical dreams that weren’t very well thought out. He had plans. He was amazing to listen to and so enthusiastic as he spoke of them. That was impressive,” Evans says.

But a few sales from his backpack weren’t close to the culmination of his idea. Entrepreneurship—especially related to clothing and fashion—started to feel like a calling. That’s a religious word, and for Aloni, it was religious.

His family had been Catholic, but during his teenage years, Aloni began attending Messiah’s House, an evangelical Christian church in Amarillo. “I fell in love with that form of Christianity,” he says. “Seeing from a different Christian perspective sparked something in me—a curiosity for Christianity and a passion for Jesus.”

It also sparked within him an interest in the places where faith and fashion intersected. Within the national culture, however, that intersection mostly disappointed him. “I was frustrated with the lack of creativity within Christian retail. I’m a firm believer that, as believers who have a relationship with the Creator, our creativity should really be set apart,” Aloni says. “I decided that, if I can’t see [a clothing line] that is what I want, then I’m going to create one.”

Aloni graduated from Palo Duro in 2019 and enrolled at Oral Roberts University, a private, evangelical university in Tulsa. He had applied with an intent to major in international ministry. But quickly he changed his major to entrepreneurship, came up with a name for his potential clothing line—F8TH Industry—and sketched out a cross-shaped logo. 

Then in 2020, during the pandemic, Aloni took even more tangible steps. He bought He started putting the logo on shirts and hoodies. He built a sophisticated website to sell them, promoting F8TH Industry as a line of products to give modern believers a unique way to express their faith. “My heart is for people to be empowered when they wear my stuff, to be able to walk and live out their faith in every aspect of life—not just in the church, but to take the church out into the world and make it a conversation,” he says.

He hired professional photographers and enlisted local models to showcase his products, filling the F8TH Industry social media feeds with high-end promotions. Orders began to roll in, so Aloni set his sights even higher. He didn’t just want to sell T-shirts. He wanted to build a lifestyle brand and a global, faith-based movement.

Education and Belief

That brings us to today, just a year after Aloni launched F8TH Industry. He’s still fulfilling online orders from across the United States. But he’s doing it while taking a deep dive into the fashion world during his internship in Dallas. This fall, he intends to pause his college education so he can focus on his business. “You can teach people to run a business, but entrepreneurship comes from the inside,” he says. “It’s a fire that’s birthed from the struggle, through the trenches. Many of the things I’m learning within my own business have come from personal experiences.”

In other words, not from the classroom, where he didn’t always get satisfying answers to his specific, road-tested business questions. “I’m still an advocate for education,” Aloni insists. “That’s why I’m here learning. But I’ve decided to take a chance on my own dream and a chance on the business God has put in my heart. College is not going anywhere.” In other words, it’ll still be there when and if he needs it.

Despite the demands of his internship, F8TH Industry is still expanding and finding new fans. “It’s a very humble experience for me, honestly, to see how quickly it’s grown,” he says. “I do believe God’s hand is on it. ”

As F8TH Industry becomes more profitable, Aloni hopes someday to launch a physical storefront back in Amarillo. But ultimately, he wants to use any profits to help other nonprofits and mission-focused enterprises whose goals line up with his own brand. “I want to extend the boundaries of just being a clothing brand. I want [F8TH Industry] to be something so much bigger than that at the end of the day. I hope my brand reaches a place where it can just speak for itself,” he says.

Tricia Evans has no doubt that day will come. “We’re all going to look up someday and say, ‘We knew Aloni.’ He’s just so formulaic about how he pursues every little iota of his business plan. Nothing about it is haphazard,” she says. “That’s why so many people are cheering him on.”

After arriving in Texas with little more than the shirt on his back, Aloni Ndihokubwayo is now in the business of putting shirts on other people’s backs. Those shirts have a message of faith, but Aloni himself displays another inspiring form of belief.

He believes in the value of experience.

He believes in the opportunity he’s found in America.

He believes in himself, his product, and his calling.

Entrepreneurs are risk-takers. Faith itself only exists in the presence of uncertainty. But if nothing else, Aloni Ndihokubwayo is sure of at least one big thing:

“Betting on yourself,” he says, “is never a risk.”