The owner of Bonita Shop, an Artisan Lane exhibitor (stand AL10) was interviewed by 9Honey about her battle with cancer and how it became the genesis of her headwear and turban business. The products Bonita Shop produces feature beautiful fabrics and designs to make women feel comfortable and confident.
A bruise and a pea-sized lump were the only clues that Macarena was in terrible danger
One month before a bruise and a pea-sized lump turned her world on its head, Macarena Erbs went to the doctor for a blood test and was told she was perfectly healthy.
The Chilean migrant was fit, active and happy, and with her 38th birthday just a few days away, she never would have suspected something sinister was growing inside her.
Then she discovered a miniscule lump in December 2020.
“I felt a little bit itchy and there was a tiny lump in my breast, like a pea or even smaller than a pea… but in my family, I never had any cancer history,” she tells 9Honey.
She would have brushed it off, but her partner at the time had a family history of breast cancer and urged Erbs to see her GP, who didn’t seem too concerned at first.
After listening to Erbs’ symptoms, the GP said the little lump “looked like nothing” but ordered a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy to be safe.
READ BONITA’S FULL STORY HERE HONEY.NINE.COM.AU
What followed was six brutal months of chemo, followed by a mastectomy and multiple reconstruction surgeries, then six weeks of radiotherapy to blast any remaining cancer cells.
Her treatment dragged out across 2021, through multiple strict lockdowns and border closures that meant that her family back in Chile couldn’t be at her side in her darkest moments.
“My family couldn’t come. The doctor and the hospital signed a letter for them to come but Australia rejected all the applications,” she says sadly.
Through it all, Erbs’ body never failed her, but there was one huge physical change that took a massive toll on her mental health and confidence.
“I asked the doctor, ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’ He said yes and I cried and cried,” she says.
“It’s part of our personality. It’s our confidence, every woman wears it in a different way. It’s part of who we are.”
Heartbroken by her hair loss and deeply conscious of the fact it marked her visually as a cancer patient, Erbs stocked up on turbans and chemo caps to cover her head.
She wanted to feel beautiful and confident, but everything she tried was either uncomfortable, poorly made or sorely lacking in colour and personality.
Having inherited her Chilean grandmother’s love of sewing, Erbs decided she could make something much better herself – so she did.
“I had a sewing machine here, so I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to make my own headwear’,” she says.
Going through cancer treatment, Erbs knew exactly what fabrics and designs would make a woman feel comfortable and confident while facing such a deadly disease and got to work.
After creating a few turbans for herself, people started asking her to sew them for friends and family going through cancer treatment and Bonita Shop was born in 2021.
“Bonita means ‘beautiful’ in Spanish, my native language, and you’re beautiful no matter what,” Erbs says of the meaning behind the name.
Despite the terrifying start to her cancer journey, Erbs made it through treatment and came out the other side cancer-free, but she wasn’t done with Bonita Shop.
Since then, Erbs has turned the business into her full-time passion and now employs other women migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to create her designs.
Even before her diagnosis, Erbs was working with Migrant Women In Business to support other women like her and is proud to help her staff achieve independence and employment.
“I’ve been in Australia for seven years, but as a migrant woman I think it’s always good to be part of a group where other women are and see that you face similar challenges,” she says.
Language barriers, cultural differences and other hurdles can make it difficult for migrant women to find work when they arrive in Australia, but Bonita Shop is making a big difference.
The business also donates a portion of all sales to breast cancer research in Australia.
“For every turban that I sell, the migrant women are getting a little bit of that, cancer is getting a little bit of that, I’m getting a little bit of that to continue [the business],” Erbs says.
In February she will be at The Sydney Gift Fair with Migrant Women In Business to show off Bonita Shop’s hair accessories in support of other women going through cancer treatment.
She plans to continue to give back as the business grows and hopes her story can inspire others who struggle to regain their confidence after losing their hair to chemo.
In February she will be at The Sydney Gift Fair (18-21st February) with Migrant Women In Business to show off Bonita Shop’s hair accessories in support of other women going through cancer treatment. ABN holders can register to attend the Sydney Gift Fair for free.