Let’s meet Liliana Bravo, the founder of Casa Bonita and one of our experts on Made By Many Minds. Casa Bonita is an innovative social enterprise that has had a significant economic, social and cultural impact since it was founded in Melbourne in 2020.
But first, some background. Liliana was born in Colombia, and after completing a Business Administration degree, left her native country for the safety of Australia. She started learning English, and then took her studies further. ‘I went into studying a double Masters in Business and Commerce. It was then obvious I wanted to make Australia my home.’
Following her studies, Liliana gained work, and had a family, and was looking forward to furthering her career on her return from maternity leave. But despite her skills and qualifications, Liliana encountered some obstacles. ‘I soon realised that my migrant status was a challenge in advancing my career. My limited working experience in Australia, lack of confidence and no professional network were the main causes.’
Rather than letting herself be limited by circumstances, Liliana decided the time had come to take control. ‘It was time to action my dream of being self-employed and working in the business of my dreams. This entailed creating work that would allow me to remain connected with my heritage and to be the best version of my true self, while creating cultural pride for my daughters and future generations.’
Liliana established a pop-up shop in Melbourne’s west, inspired by her passion for her culture and heritage. ‘I realised that I could use my voice to connect with and to tell the stories of Colombian artisans and Indigenous women by introducing their beautiful handcrafted homewares and fashion to Australia.’
From little things, big things grow, and this was certainly Liliana’s experience. Outgrowing the pop-up shop, Liliana moved to new premises which soon became a Women’s Empowerment Hub hosting events and programs for multicultural women. Combining her work experience, cultural background and passion for supporting other women, Liliana had found her sweet spot. ‘With my corporate experience in supply chain, together with my studies in Business, I designed an ethical and sustainable business model focusing on economic empowerment for Latin American artisans and Indigenous-led businesses.’
The Casa Bonita Cultural and Empowerment Hub was unique – a retail outlet, a training centre, and a place to educate customers about the benefits of supporting migrant women business owners. As Liliana describes it, ‘It became a multicultural retail shop showcasing authentic handcrafted pieces, and the most unique empowerment hub in the inner-west, where the local community could learn about culture and about the impact of what a purchase can create for a migrant woman’s life.’
Despite the business launching during Melbourne’s harsh COVID-19 restrictions, Liliana’s holistic model was a huge success. Since 2020, Casa Bonita has hosted cultural events, indoor markets, networking events, webinars, and multicultural storytimes. Liliana also designed and facilitated a co-retail program for migrant women and local emerging businesses. The program allowed migrant women to access a retail space, build their skills, and to learn about the opportunities that the retail sector has for migrant women and the local community. In just two and a half years, Casa Bonita has run 29 events bringing together 1030 attendees, and the retail program has, to date, empowered 45 migrant women.
Liliana designed her programs to encourage participation from migrant Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) women and communities. ‘Women from Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Greece, Turkey, Somalia, Australia and the UK have taken part in these programs. This is a progressive, inclusive approach, as it looks to help integrate communities by nurturing and celebrating all heritage and cultures.’
Finding a niche was also been a crucial to Casa Bonita’s impact: ‘I saw a great opportunity to bring multiculturalism, diversity and opportunities for migrant women into the retail sector…It made a difference locally, as there had been a gap in the region – it’s a first, and it’s unique.’
Casa Bonita’s success to date has been reflected through awards and media coverage. Liliana’s business received a Multicultural Excellence in Business Award in 2021, and was a nominee for the 2023 Maribyrnong City Council Business Awards. Her program and shop have twice been featured on national television, on SBS and the ABC in 2022.
Liliana is thrilled that her business has been able to help so many women in such a short time. Pursuing her dream also helped Liliana draw on previously untapped talents. ‘This entrepreneurial experience allowed me to discover the inner leadership skills I didn’t know I had and that it was safe to use my voice for social change.’
Liliana continues to explore options to grow Casa Bonita further, through expanded programs, business coaching and wholesaling. And, as she explains, she remains committed to empowering and creating opportunities for migrant women. ‘As a migrant woman I know the challenges that we encounter in starting a business in a new country. As a social entrepreneur I have created alliances, programs and processes to share with this community. I’m passionate about creating a diverse and resilient economy based on ethical business practices and sustainable products that empower women in business.’
Thank you, Liliana!
To read more about Casa Bonita’s business profile and services, visit Casa Bonita’s profile page.