“Even here in Australia, opportunities are mainly for men,” Liliana says. “But I want my daughters to remember where they came from, and to know that they can grow up to be strong, independent women.”

Liliana Bravo

Like so many women who experience a loss of self after having a child, Liliana Bravo says she, “Died for three years,” when she became a mother. But for Liliana, her loss was far more profound than many of us could imagine. As around the same time that Liliana had her children in Australia, her younger brother was kidnapped and tragically killed 47 days later in her home of Colombia. It was – understandably – enough to make Liliana question her identity and her culture. But ultimately, it was this questioning that brought about a rebirth. An opportunity to rediscover what she wanted from her life, and how she could set about making a difference.

As the eldest of three children born to hardworking parents, Liliana grew up with fear that her family’s success would put her and her siblings in danger. So it was a welcomed relief when she came to Australia at the age of 22, and discovered that she could be anonymous and discover who it was that she wanted to be. 

As an aspiring entrepreneur with a passion for family business, Liliana was also fascinated by Australia’s markets and boutiques. While her initial foray into the industry (attempting to sell handwoven ponchos on Chapel Street!) didn’t amount to great success, her interest remained throughout a 10-year career at Penguin Pearson, where Liliana looked after distribution, business development and client services.

But after having her two children, and following the deep questioning about life and its purpose, Liliana reached a point when she wanted more. “I was feeling very deflated,” Liliana said. “I realised that I had a salary and I had flexibility, which is what you want as a mother. But I also wanted passion. So I started my business on the side after doing every online course in the world. Interior design, project management, you name it!”

Then, Casa Bonita Lifestyle was born. A retail store that not only stocks beautiful and unique products, but also a social enterprise that creates financial security for more than 250 artisan families and Indigenous communities in Colombia. Liliana prioritises the artisans she works with based on their individual needs, so she is able to make the biggest impact possible. 95% of these artisans are women – mostly mothers and solo parents – as well as the staff in the Melbourne store. “Being a migrant woman, we need to learn the language, and the best place to do that is in a job,” Liliana said. “But you can’t get a job until you learn the language. So many women stay in jobs like cleaning, despite being really talented, creative and full of knowledge. Casa Bonita Lifestyle gives these women a chance and a dream in Australia.”

Despite being hugely motivating and inspiring, the entrepreneurial road for Liliana has not been an easy one. “As a mum and an entrepreneur, it’s hard not having the support of my family when it comes to my children,” she said. “I am either working or looking after my kids. The workload can be overwhelming. And it’s hard not having family here to show them what I have created and to celebrate my milestones.”

But despite the challenges, Liliana is immensely appreciative of the opportunities she has been provided in Australia, and that in turn, people appreciate the work she is doing to empower women. 

“Even here in Australia, opportunities are mainly for men,” Liliana says. “But I want my daughters to remember where they came from, and to know that they can grow up to be strong, independent women.” We’d say they are learning from the best.

Published by Amy Malpass-Hahn, Freelance writer