CHAMPIONS OF THE WEST – Liliana Bravo, Casa Bonita Lifestyle


    By Elizabeth Minter

    It took Liliana Bravo, a Colombian-born and raised woman, 15 years to get her business in Melbourne up and running. She is determined to pass on everything she has learned, so that women who come after her have a much quicker, and easier journey and learn from her experiences. 

    In 2019, Liliana launched Casa Bonita Lifestyle, an independent and self-funded social enterprise that empowers artisans and Indigenous women from Colombia, and migrant and local women to set up their own businesses and become financially independent. 

    Casa Bonita sells artisan and Indigenous-made products from Colombia and delivers business coaching programs for women, and hosts cultural and networking events.

    The Colombian-made products are only sourced from traditional businesses, including Las Juanitas, an award-winning association of more than 200 artisans – mostly women. They live in remote areas, are often single mothers or farm workers of Indigenous heritage, and are often displaced because of hometown violence. 

    These artisans use traditional designs and fibres from the Andean iraca palm to weave fedora and Panama-style hats and an eclectic array of fashion accessories, homewares and gifts. 

    Each purchase from Casa Bonita: 

    • provides financial security to artisans and Indigenous tribes and their families
    • supports environmentally friendly business practices 
    • preserves ancestral and Indigenous techniques. 

    More than 100 women have participated in Casa Bonita’s business coaching programs and a number of them have gone on to set up their own retail businesses. 

    The 2018 CGU Migrant Small Business Report found that one-third of small businesses in Australia – at least 620,000 businesses – were owned by migrants, and that they employed about 1.41 million people.

    Social enterprises exist to create a fairer, more sustainable world. They must do three things: 

    • Have a defined social, cultural or environmental purpose;
    • Derive a substantial portion of their income from trade; and 
    • The public benefit must outweigh the private benefit. 

    Liliana grew up in Ipiales, a city of about 100,000 people on the border with Ecuador. After completing a business degree she came to Melbourne in 2004 at the age of 22 to learn English. 

    “Living in a strongly Catholic community in Colombia, information was tightly controlled and we were exposed to very little information about the world,’’ Liliana said. “But I have always been really curious about the world. It’s why I really wanted to learn English.” 

    Liliana said “it was a dream come true” to start her English course. Initially planning to stay six months, Liliana realised it would take a lot longer to learn the language. “I quickly connected with the local Latin American community, which really helped my sense of belonging. But it didn’t help my English.” 

    She realised she needed to mix with people outside of the Latin American community, although she found this challenging. 

    After studying English for one year she enrolled in a double-masters degree in commerce and international business. “It took me five years to complete; it was difficult because I was studying in a second language, but I got there in the end.”

    Liliana then worked for 10 years in the shipping division of Random House/Penguin in distribution and development.

    “After 10 years I wanted to grow professionally and follow my passions. I wanted work that was creative and where I could build leadership skills. However, this proved to be very difficult as a professional migrant woman.” 

    “I had tried to start Casa Bonita when I was an international student in 2004, but I realised I needed a lot more knowledge – of the retail and wholesale environment, of the English language, and more. So I put the project on the back burner while I gained more skills and experience. 

    “After having my two daughters, I was working part time so I thought it was a good time to get on with the project I had spent so much of my life thinking about.”

    In 2019 she began building the business website and contacted the artisan partners in Colombia. She also attended trade fairs and in early 2020 launched Casa Bonita as a popup shop in Seddon. 

    And then the pandemic hit. 

    “It was such a hard time, but it also gave me time to connect with local communities and artisans because they were all in lockdown as well.”

    When the opportunity arose to move into a larger popup shop in Seddon, Liliana jumped at it. 

    “It was ideal timing because this bigger shop allowed me to create the Casa Bonita Empowerment Hub, design business coaching programs and host cultural events, creating more opportunities for other women to set up their own retail outlets. The Hub also allowed five migrant women to have their first retail shop in Australia. 

    “This framework allowed us to learn together and to connect with the community.” 

    Liliana is enjoying her role in helping to break down barriers that women, particularly migrant women, face in the business world. 

    “The environment here in Australia is so different from what I am used to. In Colombia, financial independence for women is more challenging,” says Liliana. 

    “Also, in Colombia there is a mentality of competition, where you don’t share your knowledge, you don’t collaborate, and you are very private about what you are doing. There is a lot of fear of competitors.”

    After Liliana married a locally-born Australian, the couple moved to West Footscray, where they live with their two daughters. “I love the diversity and the multicultural environment in Melbourne’s west. In my mothers’ group there were so many women from all over the world. 

    “I love that my children have two languages and that they have so much opportunity to learn about other cultures and diversity and inclusion.” 

    Casa Bonita now has a new home at Victoria University Footscray Park campus.

    Elizabeth Minter is Daniel Mulino’s media adviser.


    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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