From Columbia to Melbourne – Liliana Bravo Quiroz is the Founder of The Casa Bonita Shop and Women’s Empowerment Hub – This is her story.
Liliana Bravo Quiroz is an infectiously enthusiastic Social Entrepreneur with a mission to empower women and communities in Colombia, Australia and further afield. Liliana left her native Colombia to feel safe in Australia and to learn English, but soon extended her studies to complete a double masters in Business and Commerce and made Australia her home.
Both in her corporate publishing career and during the little spare time she had with a young family, Liliana took every opportunity to learn and grow. With a business model focused on positive impact to Colombian artisans and their communities, Liliana realised her dream of introducing the beautiful crafts and vibrant culture of her native South American heritage to the rest of the world. The Casa Bonita Shop and Women’s Empowerment Hub, based in Seddon, Victoria, is a joyful showcase for these crafts and a space for people to engage with Latin American culture. Here, other women from different backgrounds are invited to participate in programs and to share their own culture and stories with the local community; creating opportunities for connections and building a sustainable income.
Liliana continues her mission to give back by using her expertise in supply chain logistics to collaborate with and support migrant women in Australia to realise their own business dreams. Liliana’s innovative business model has been awarded The Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence in Business 2021
Tell us how your journey started
I am from Colombia and extremely passionate about my South American heritage! I absolutely love its folklore, colours, music, carnivals, traditions and the talented humble people. I come from a very humble background, and due to my father’s hard work, entrepreneurship and risk taking, I have been very fortunate to have an outstanding education and international learning opportunities. The constant internal war continuing in Colombia, and the related issues of personal safety, have contributed to my resilience and my vision that, despite the difficulties, there is always a way to make things work and create a better place to live. I craved the safety and freedom of speech I couldn’t have in Colombia. Since a young age I knew education would enable me to thrive, not merely survive; I seized any opportunities I could to study.
Australia was a welcoming country, and it’s an honour to call it home today. I came to Australia to learn English and then I took a double Masters of International Business and Commerce. I dreamed about starting a business where I could work with the talented people from Colombia and keep connected to my roots was a dream. So I tried to start my own business more than ten years ago, visiting markets and selling my products to friends. That was a fun activity but it wasn’t a reliable income. I decided to stop and focus on my career. I worked in distribution for a publishing company in Melbourne, Australia, where I gained extensive experience in supply chain logistics and the Australian market.
I had my two beautiful children, I experienced postpartum depression at the same time my family was affected by a traumatic loss of my little brother. Grieving hasn’t been easy being far away from my family but somehow in that process I realised that I had been keeping a quiet voice for my safety. I went through a long period of anger but as I started to create a new relationship with my little brother, remembering him for the beautiful life he had, and not how we lost him, I got inspired to let my voice be heard.
So in the search for flexible working arrangements, I had a boost of creativity and for the first time in my life, I let my passion and voice lead my journey: empowering brave women and cultural communities. The opportunity to take a pop-up shop came up in January 2020 while I was still working at the corporate job (January 2020). Six months after, in the middle of the pandemic (June 2020) I took a larger pop-up space which became the current Gallery shop and Women’s and Empowerment Hub.
What led you to create your business/or work in the field you are in?
Casa Bonita is a reflection of my heart – for both the local community here in Melbourne, but also for the women and families I know and love back in Colombia. I arrived in Australia from Colombia just over sixteen years ago and settled in West Footscray in 2012 after I got married. I became part of a mother’s group and joined local Facebook groups for mums so I could meet people in my new area. I was really inspired by these women as I resonated with topics discussed openly. Body positivity, environment, women in politics, motherhood and wellbeing. I was really amazed how women were supportive and shared their knowledge and experiences. And It was through this experience I became inspired to help women who were just like me to not only find a piece of home in Australia, but also to create opportunities for women who might not know where to start.
Through my connections, I realised that I could empower women who might be local here in Melbourne, or overseas, to become financially independent, start their own businesses and carry the beauty of their cultural identity through their work. Not only this but I have been able to show my children the best version of their mother. I wanted them to grow up knowing about Colombian culture, and to encourage them that no person is undeserving of building their own beautiful life. I love involving them in helping other women to be empowered and supported, no matter where they come from or what they have in their hands. Casa Bonita Lifestyle is all about empowering women through business and fostering cultural identity – no matter where you come from. Our award-winning business model has helped hundreds of women to find their own voice, which is absolutely priceless. Creating this business has helped this young girl from Colombia find her confidence, her voice and to lead herself. I’m so passionate about helping other wonderful women do the same. Others took a chance and gave me an opportunity to grow and build a business, and that is why I want to help empower women to do the same.
What are you passionate about and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My biggest passion is to work with women. I actually think my mission in life is to create opportunities to connect South American women with women around the world, through their beautiful handmade products or through events and programs I create here at Casa Bonita. I know there is so much power from connectivity and learning from different cultures. There is so much power from facilitating spaces to empower each other.
My goal in the near future is to create a Casa Bonita that is known globally as the ethical shop destination where every product creates an opportunity for women to have a sustainable income.
What advice do you have for other women 40+ who are wanting to make an impact in the community or the world?
I strongly believe that diversity is a powerful thing so always add it to your business planning and you will take your business to a whole new level of social impact. As business owners we have great power and responsibility so let’s make a difference with our businesses.
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