Fashion designer Julie Appo, 71, achieves lifelong dream of opening boutique clothing store – ABC News

When Julie Appo was a young girl, she believed being an Indigenous Australian meant she would never be able to achieve her dreams.

But refusing to let go of her childhood ambition and artist’s calling, Julie battled poverty and social attitudes to finally open her own boutique fashion retail shop at 71 years of age.

In a small retail space in the coastal village of Bargara near Bundaberg, a sewing machine sits surrounded by colourful fabric and handcrafted clothing featuring unique designs.

The textile designs are related to carved-rock-art imagery from the Gooreng Gooreng people, original residents of a region known as the Burnett River rocks, between Gladstone in central Queensland and Bundaberg in the state’s south-east.

Julie hopes her creations will help to raise awareness of her people’s connection to the land and these important historical artworks.

A woman stands with a clothing and a sewing machine sits in the corner.A woman stands with a clothing and a sewing machine sits in the corner.
As a child, Julie Appo assumed she would work as a labourer, not in the arts.(

ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos

)

As a young child, Julie was compelled to draw circles and designs she says she didn’t quite understand.

She created small items of clothing, imagining life as a fashion designer but not believing it was something she would be able to achieve because of her Aboriginal heritage.

“We were fringe dwellers, we lived outside mainstream Australia,” Julie said, hesitantly.

“We were not allowed to live near white people, if you can say that.

While Julie’s parents worked hard to provide for her family, financial stress was part of their lives and further education was not something the family could afford.

Keeping the family fed, clothed and bills paid was the main priority.

“Mum and Dad, as labourers, couldn’t afford to send us to higher education,” Julie said.

“Art college would have been too expensive to send me there.

A photo of a young woman and flowers and painted rocks.A photo of a young woman and flowers and painted rocks.
A photo of Julie Appo at 17 in her Bargara clothing store.(

ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos

)

Saving as much as possible from a variety of domestic and clerical jobs, Julie was eventually able to follow her desire to study the arts and she attended the College of Art in Brisbane when she was in her early 30s.

Finding acceptance and tolerance in art college, Julie completed her fashion-design course but struggled to crack into the industry and focused on working from home as a dressmaker, before going on to an administration role.

But her creative calling still beckoned, and Julie returned to university to complete two degrees in visual arts.

Opening the doors to the whole community

When a friend told Julie about an opportunity to rent a retail space in late 2020, she decided to finally live her childhood dream.

She hopes her clothing boutique will be more than a shop: a place people in the community can come to discuss culture and art, or what she calls a “bit of a drop-in centre”.

Reflecting on the opportunity to finally follow her passion for her culture as well as producing ethical, handmade clothing and craft, Julie feels the struggles of her childhood helped shape her strength and ambition.

“In one way, I wish I had the opportunities [then] that are available now and the acceptability of Aboriginal art as a very cultural but very unique art form,” Julie said.

“I think you appreciate things more when they don’t come so easily to you.”

A woman stands with a dress in a clothing store.A woman stands with a dress in a clothing store.
Julie Appo hopes she can raise awareness of Indigenous culture through her designs.(

ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos

)

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