By Athena Thompson
You may have heard the South American music performances permeating out into the street as you walk by a brightly coloured shop front in Charles street in Seddon. Walk into the doors of Casa Bonita and meet Liliana Bravo, a bundle of vibrant energy creating a multicultural community co-retailing space and selling Latin American crafts and wares.
There is more going on here than a festive vibe, gorgeous weaved baskets and stylish panama hats. Lilana has created unique collaborative models, that are considerate of diversity and help migrant and creative women succeed. The driving force behind this local entrepreneur is her passion to empower migrant women to push past the English barrier and bring their passion project to life, and obtain financial security.
Clear on her identity and proud of her background, she fondly describes growing up in Colombia in a culture that celebrates Carnavalito (a small festival for children). Where heritage and culture are celebrated, and community forms strong foundations. As Liliana tells me, “Heritage and culture, do not go out of fashion”.
As a migrant that arrived in Melbourne back in 2004, she first came to learn English in the most challenging of ways, doing a double master’s degree in Business and International Commerce. Liliana describes this as one of the most challenging moments in her life second to having children. So she has an intimate experience and understanding first hand with the barriers resulting from coming to another country, with creating a support network and opportunities to thrive.
As result of her upbringing and experiences, she has taken the challenges head on for all migrant women taking a multilateral approach. Firstly, she started the Casa Bonita business that works with Latin American communities, using her expertise in supply chain logistics to sell homewares and crafts. She established an online shop that helped communities in her country of birth to create an income by selling into Australia.
As her product offering expanded and to be able to give her customers first-hand experience of the hand crafted products, she set up a pop-up shop in that little lane shop in Seddon. Then in June 2020, the craziest of times, she left her full time distribution job in the publishing industry to take over permanently the old real estate agency to create a co-retailing and co-working space. She offers new businesses the opportunity to co-opt a space in an affordable way to test out their business. They can start small, to test their business for a day to sell their wares, to then eventually, as their business thrives to permanently establish their business in the space. There are currently four other established retailers; Aneka Jewellery (from Colombia), Hemera Labs (from India) and El Bosque Botanico (from Colombia).
In addition to the co-retailing model, she developed a program for upcoming international students to gain hands on experience in business. Recognising the root of the problem, where migrant women despite their qualifications and experience will often go for work that requires minimal communication and speaking in English. Liliana set work on creating a collaboration program that gave entrepreneurial type women the confidence and ability to hone their speaking language skills and develop business experience to give them an edge. Second to that, seeing that COVID hit international students pretty hard, she invited 5 students to join the program.
The well-structured and thought out approach, took into consideration the needs of the women and the needs of her business. Liliana created roles for the cohort to apply, they went through the process, to gain the experience of going for a job and being interviewed. Once they accepted, she sat with each of them to further define their role, establish goals in key areas they wanted to build skills, with clear deadlines to be completed within a three month period. Each woman took one day a week to work with Liliana’s mentorship on areas from the basics of setting up a business to e-commerce all within a real world setting of Casa Bonita. With great end results at the end of the first pilot program, with Viridiana Gonzalez joining Casa Bonita Lifestyle as the Shop Manager to Brenda Gil starting El Bosque Botanico, a handcrafted pots and plants business that now resides at the rear.
With implementation of new practices like these, building powerful collaborative communities, Liliana has made sure to share her knowledge and networks as a member with Migrant Women in Business. She is currently building on the strength of the pilot and working towards replicating the model for other small businesses as well as looking how to be inclusive of first nations and indigenous communities.
Aside from this, Liliana has activated the shop into a vibrant place to go. She has created an inviting place for locals to come and connect to be exposed to the diversity and cultures that she is surrounded by daily. Over the last year she created a series of events proving to be an inviting place for locals to come, such as; the Hola Bonita networking night for business, Multicultural Storytime inviting local writers, Latinas Christmas Fair an indoor market and Christmas celebrations sharing the South American traditions.
Stay tuned, as she gets ready for international Women’s day in March, you can follow the ‘What’s on’ at Casa Bonita’s website casabonita.com.au/pages/whatson
The talented multicultural women of the west at Casa Bonita
El Boske Botanico is a Colombian Folk Nursery and self-care apothecary based on Latin American ancestral recipes. Founded by Colombian native Brenda, who applies her knowledge to home living and wellness, incorporating her experience as both a fashion designer and a current aromatherapy and remedial massage student. El Boske welcomes people with tropical music and vibrant colours, where one can find massage therapy services or products to create their own little sanctuary; from plants, pots, wind chimes and dream catchers. instagram.com/elboskebotanico, elboskebotanico.com
Anneka – Ana Mejia’s venture began with her passion for all things Silver, the fluent lines and sophisticated shapes seen in Colombian Filigree. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, She traded the busy world of telecommunications and digital merchandising in which she worked for more than 16 years, to follow her passion for designing and manufacturing filigree jewellery. Now living in Melbourne, she brings the beauty and mystery associated with the fine art of filigree, a technique that the “Momposinos’ ‘ have been perfecting the art for the last 400 years. instagram.com/annekastudiofiligree, annekastudiofiligree.com
Hemera Labs – Hand Embroidered Luxury – Having loved embroidery so dearly, Ridhima decided to use her love for embroidery in creating unique products. Creating the brand Hemera Labs, the Embroidery Experimental lab. Born in India, and studied in London Applied Imagination in Creative Industries, she chose Melbourne as her home and pursued her love for embroidery with Hemera Labs. She has a collection of embroidered wall art, scarves, cards, headbands and more. instagram.com/hemeralabs, hemeralabs.com
Professional problem solver by day (business consultant at TechLever) and supreme question asker by night, exploring Melbourne’s west one curiosity at a time. Co-founder of the Inner West Women’s Hub, a group for women who live, work & play locally.