“And when I see someone with one of my hats, my face just lights up.”

– Lily Ceron Fernandez

If one ever needs a definition of strength and grit, they should look to a migrant woman. And if they want to take it up a notch? They should add motherhood into the mix. One woman who has done it all? Lily Ceron Fernandez.

Lily travelled the world on her own, arrived in Australia as a backpacker with a degree in journalism via a stint in Israel, and ended up as a teacher and lecturer, with a PhD in Linguistics. Exhausted already? Us too. But it was the universal experience of motherhood that brought Lily to her knees. “More than anything I’ve done in my time, my baby Vida has changed my life completely,” Lily tells us. “Everyone tells you that it will change your life, but I underestimated it. The arrival of Vida made me the happiest I had ever been, but also made me sad for the life I left behind. It was almost a type of mourning.”

Mums around the world will be nodding their heads in understanding. But rather than sinking into a slump or scrolling Instagram into the wee hours like the rest of us, Lily decided to start a business. One where she could turn her passion for hats – and her deep passion for making them – into an entrepreneurial endeavour. The most astounding part? Vida is just five months old. 

“In 2016, my husband sent me to Paris,” Lily tells us. “There, I learned the ins and outs of the practical and technical skills of hat making from a milliner who worked for Gucci. Hats were always a real passion of mine, so I began handcrafting hats as a hobby. I just wanted people to look at me and think, ‘Wow, did you see that girl with that great hat?’!”

Lucky for us, we can now experience that same feeling, with Lily’s gorgeous range of handcrafted headwear. Using the inspiration of colours from South America, and showcasing the many sub-cultures within the Spanish language, Lily’s intention is to create something unique and special. “I use leather and cut-offs from fabrics that I love and would like to wear myself,” she says. “And when I see someone with one of my hats, my face just lights up.”

Turning her passion into a business also came remarkably easily for go-getter Lily. “While breastfeeding, I was asking Google, ‘How do people sell things? How do immigrants get into business?” Lily says. Soon into her search, she stumbled upon Made By Many Hands, applied on her phone, and the rest is history.

For Lily, it’s proof of the power of the village and in her love of Australian culture. “Here, I have always been treated like an equal,” she says. “Everyone is very conscious of the people around them and wants to help. Even when I meet someone who is a CEO of a huge company, I am treated well. So I have felt empowered to become what I wanted to become.”

“I will say to my children, ‘This is your country and it is also mine,’” says Lily. “It makes me very proud.”

If there’s one thing we’re certain of, it’s that Vida will be incredibly proud of her mother, who not only turned a challenging time into one of empowerment, but seeks to inspire other mothers in the process. In fact, Lily even started her own mother’s group – consisting of 1500 women – before even giving birth. “I want other new mums to know that things can be hard, but they can be done. It’s okay to feel sad, and to talk about how you’re feeling. But seek out your village,” she says. “I needed to find my own, and they inspire me and support me daily. I want to be an inspiration and support to others too.”

She finishes with wise words for all of us – mothers or not. “Sometimes I think we all just need to take time for ourselves. When everyone is asleep, we can reinvent ourselves. For me, I’m not just a teacher, not just an immigrant, not just a mother. I am just trying to be me.”

And, may we say, it’s an impressive “me” at that.

Published by Amy Malpass-Hahn, Freelance writer