Lucy Aboagye - Not Yet Perfect

Bread & Butter is a monthly dinner and storytelling event designed to make you think deeply about social issues. A new storyteller every month shares a personal story with 40 guests in the dining room at the Centre for Stories.

Lucy Aboagye is a multidisciplinary artist with a desire to cultivate community, inspire people, and help shape culture through creativity and the power of words. At her Bread and Butter event, she spoke about her experiences a fashion designer, learning to embrace imperfections, and find community through creativity.

You can listen to her story Not Yet Perfect by clicking the play button, or read a transcript below.


Okay, so year one, term one and day one. I remember the excitement and the joy I had as I put on my school uniform, and just heard all these kids yelling and parents yelling back and doing it in a language that I was familiar with, one that we only spoke at home. It was in that moment, as a six-year-old, that I actually understood that this is home, this is belonging, and this is a place that was safe. That was really strange for me because I was actually on a family holiday in Ghana, West Africa, and this wasn’t actually my home, this wasn’t a familiar place. But knowing that I could find that kind of connection and sense of belonging somewhere that wasn’t my normal, was really, lovely. So, term two, year one, I went through the same motions; I put on my school uniform, I remember hearing kids yelling, parents trying to get everyone together, and going to school. But this time, that sense of belonging wasn’t there, that sense of home and that sense of peace. I wasn’t hearing a language that I was familiar with and this was because I was in Bunbury, Western Africa (laughs) Bunbury, Western Australia. And I actually was home, but this was a very different experience of school that I had initially had. So, going into year one, back home now and having that understanding of that feeling of peace of belonging and home, and not finding that sense of it where my home actually was.

I started looking for something to hold on to, something to recreate that idea, and something that I could delve back into that space. So, for me, it was creativity, it was drawing. I realised quite early on that as I drew and as I imagined, I could kind of take myself in my mind back to that place, and that place that I’d experienced earlier on, and as I drew I could re-create this perfect world that I thought was it, like that’s where I wanna be and that’s where I wanna stay. So, with my pencil and my paper, I drew those worlds and as I drew that world, I started drawing in the characters, I started drawing in the woman that I wanted to be, and I had a real focus also on the clothing that she was wearing. So, it wasn’t very long until I was like, “You know what, I wanna be a fashion designer.” Though I didn’t fully understand what that completely meant, I just knew that I liked making clothes, drawing clothing, and thought, “I can be that person, and be transported to that place when I put on this uniform and I am this woman.”

So, you know, everyone knew I was gonna be a fashion designer all throughout primary school. When my little sister was put to bed, she was five years younger than me, and an hour later my parents would pick her up and she would have different outfit on. So my parents knew I was that I was going to be a fashion designer, and my sister knew that I was going to be a fashion designer, because when we would play mum and dads or any kind of game, we would have to schedule in time for me to pick the outfits all the people that were gonna be a part of that. My friends also knew that because every school project that I had, or anything that I got to choose a topic, it was fashion. So that was the path that I was going on, that was what I had decided. Fast forward a few years, I’m in high school and I’m choosing my subjects, choosing the course that I wanna do once I finish school, which obviously is fashion design. And I just felt this sense of, this is me going back to that world, that perfect place that I once experienced, and that is what the fashion industry is gonna be like.

So, when I got the letter in the mail from the TAFE saying you’ve been accepted into this TAFE course, I thought, “Perfect, this is what I’ve been waiting for.” You know the next three years I spent studying and really learning everything I needed to know, so that when I was about to step into that space, I would be fully equipped, and I’d have a real understanding as to what I was doing. I wanted that experience to be everything I’d imagined all those years. So, when I graduated from TAFE, I remember getting another letter in the mail that said you are winning an award from the Bunbury Regional Theatre on this day. And I remember going up on stage, taking the award of fashion student of the year, and I just thought, “Of course!” Look, I was slightly obnoxious as a teenager, but who hasn’t had those moments. I that with such pride because I felt like I was working so hard for that and I’d been dreaming about it for so long as well.

The next step for me was going to uni, I went to Curtin University, and did a degree there, and it was the same kind of process. I put my head down, I worked as hard as I could, and at the end of the year, I took all but three awards and I just remember being like, “This journey could not be more perfect than I have imagined or dreamed it could be.”

And then with that, I started applying for jobs, and people had said, “You know you’re not gonna get a job in the fashion industry, there’s nothing available in Perth. If you wanna do something in the fashion industry, go over east.” And, I was never one to shy away from challenges, so I thought, “You know what, I’m just gonna put my head down, I’m gonna apply for anything and everything and just work really hard at it.” and one of the jobs that I had got was a job a personal stylist and shopper for David Jones. And, for me, I was like, “This is amazing, this is perfect, this is what I’ve dreamed of!” And I was just so ready to take on the challenges that came with that. And my project that they sent me on was going over east and for that it was for the spring/summer fashion launch. I was just so excited cause this for me was really stepping into that world that I had drawn all those years back. It was all the things that I had worked towards to get to the point, was about to happen. So, I hopped off the plane and I got to Sydney, it was my first time in Sydney, and you know it was this real whirlwind experience. We were all dressed head to toe in black, I put on my red Ruby Woo lipstick from MAC, slicked my hair back, and it was like I was taking this seriously, like this was my thing. And I had dreamt about this, and I had hoped for this, and I remember stepping into a space, you know going backstage and meeting all these people, and engaging with these industry experts, and as the days went on while I was there during that time, I just started looking around and going, “There’s actually something not quite right here.” You know, it’s actually not what I- this is not what I had imagined, because I think in the lead up to that, my ideas got very changed about what it is that I was looking for, because the six-year-old me was actually looking for belonging and connection and the 23-year-old me was just looking for the excitement and the craziness and whirlwind of the fashion industry. And as people spoke, and as I engaged with more people, and as people laughed, I just thought, “You’re laughing with your mouth but there’s nothing here, or we’re having this conversation but it’s like there’s this wall in between us, and are we really talking?” And I started craving that feeling again, because I realised that it wasn’t here, and I thought I would’ve found it.

So, with that, I left Sydney quite discouraged, and I started questioning, “Am I gonna keep pursuing this? Is this what I want?” and there was so much tension in that question because I had not spent however many years dreaming about this, thinking I’m going to get to this point, only to realise that it wasn’t what I had hoped for. So, my next project was actually with a Fremantle based business and that was to go to India and design a collection for them. So, I got on a plane, and I was­–I had a bit of optimism about it. But, went to India and I ended up in a town called Pushkar. And I was just blown away. I was seeing people using creativity in a way that empowered people, in a way that really encouraged, and looked at what someone had already created and said, “How can we share this with the world, because we see so much value in what you’re doing.” You know the focus started coming off what we were creating and the perfection of the look, the ‘what do I look like at the event?’ or a ‘am I talking to the right person at this event?’ and it actually shifted to the people we were engaging with and saying, “You have something of value, and so does everyone around us, and how do we draw that out of people? And doe we represent it?” and encourage and empower people as they share their giftings. And seeing creativity, and seeing community from that standpoint, I thought, “Wow, this is what I’ve been looking for. This is where I wanna be.” And it completely shifted that desire to just after being in the world as opposed the same way as a six-year-old would draw this world, I can create this community around me. I can create that community by encouraging people, and it’s actually not just about me. It’s actually about the people who have the skills, and who have gifts, and how do we empower and encourage them to use those things in a way that’s going to celebrate what they do? Seeing someone model that, coming back to Perth, I thought, “Wow. I need to make a change.”

So, I was still quite young and naïve, and I thought, “I’m gonna quit my job! I’m gonna save the world!” and I did, and I found myself working at a school called Alta One, and at this school it was about working with at-risk youth, and going on a journey with them of personal recovery, and also walking a life journey with them as they dealt with different challenges whilst finishing high school as well. And it was in that time where I kind of started letting go of all the ideas about perfection, and all these ideas that I had created in my mind that I thought I would find in the fashion industry, and started looking at the reality of things, because I didn’t wanna have any more conversations that I was talking to someone but there was really just this, you know, brick wall between us. I didn’t wanna be laughing, and know that is such a fake laugh, but I just have to because this is the right person to talk to and they’ve said something funny. So, I just started going, “How do we actually connect? How do we actually communicate properly? How do we get to the deeper part of people?” because we all have a level of depth that we don’t often engage with. With these kids, they taught me so much, because there were no lies, there was no–there was just pure honesty which was great, sometimes, but they would tell you and it was like, “Wow.” Even though it might not have come out the right way, it was teaching me–I was relearning how to have that community, how to find that sense of belonging and how to really connect with individuals around me.

While I was teaching I decided to take up a new craft, I thought, “I’m gonna put fashion aside for a while, and I’m gonna pick something up. I’m gonna do something with my hands, I wanna create and I still love that space, I still love that world but I’m gonna do something different.” So, it was a good friend of mine who working with me at that time, who was doing pottery that encouraged me, you know, “Sign up for that class.” And that person was (inaudible). So, I signed up for that class, and another, and as I was doing them I thought, “I’m going to share this with photos of the work I’m creating, and also share the process,” Because I found such peace and such joy in it. And I was starting to recognise what in my life was kind of replicating those emotions that I had felt back then, and how I could recreate that. So, letting go of this idea of perfection that I had found and kind of created in the fashion space, and relearning what it is to create, to connect, and to belong. And in that time I got to share that craft with the kids at the school that I was teaching, but leaving the school at the end of 2017, I found myself in a space where I was like, “Wow, I can actually step into whatever I want next. What is it going to be?” And while I didn’t specifically pick it, because my choice was to go back to doing fashion-based stuff, pottery kind of emerged and there was a demand for it, and I started a business called Not Yet Perfect. And in that I was able to create, I was able to teach people, or I should say I am able to teach people about pottery, but more so about the journey and about connecting with people. Sitting down and creating. And creating has this way of disarming people, of allowing you to just speak without having to think so much about, “am I saying the right thing or the wrong thing?” It’s so disarming, it’s so peaceful, there’s a joy that comes in creating that it’s not so much about the end product, but the product represents this moment that you’ve had with people around you. And that idea of conversation, which I saw so much when I was a six-year-old, and people talk a lot, and there’s so much vibrancy and animation in the way they did it, and I just love–this is so real. I wanna see that, we all have that in us, so you know, as people create and as they’re being disarmed, there’s this conversation that erupts and I love that, because that is also the catalyst for creativity. Where people’s ideas become their world, which is wrapped around them, and it’s a beautiful thing. So, letting go of everything that I thought was perfect, which wasn’t, to embracing what’s not yet perfect and which will never be, and being so ok with that. Finding a place of peace and belonging and community in the spaces that I choose to create them, and I choose to engage with them. And knowing that we all have the ability to create, and there will never be a perfect place, and that there is so much beauty in what is raw and not yet refined. So, enjoy that, and I’m still learning that, so I wanna share that with you guys. Thank you.”

Copyright © 2019 Lucy Aboagye

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

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