Hannah Skvarla and Lauren Conrad are doing something new with The Little Market. They’re using their influence and experience to do good, in a way that benefits and empowers women all over the world. The duo have created a meaningful fashion and lifestyle brand where they travel all around the world, giving a voice to those struggling. They empower women artisans by helping them support their families and building long partnerships with them which changes their lives immensely. Hannah and Lauren are slowly but steadily changing things for artisans in third world countries, bridging the gap between the talented people who live in developing countries and giving them the tools to earn their own income. With one-of-a-kind items from all over the world at your fingertips, The Little Market brings these rare treasures to us and the online marketplace sells everything from scarves and jewellery to ceramics and candles.
“When women learn financial and job skills, they have more opportunities, such as being able to take better care of their families and their health.”
Taylor Magazine: How did the idea for The Little Market come about and how did it turn from an idea into the incredible venture it is today?
The Little Market: We have always enjoyed traveling together. We love visiting marketplaces and meeting with artisans who make beautiful handmade goods. In previous travels, we enjoyed finding gorgeous handmade items for our friends. Lauren and I went on a trip to Africa in 2012 to meet with nonprofits that were focusing on women and children. We wanted to do something with a lasting and meaningful impact that could help women around the world. We also wanted to create something without a limit regarding how many people we could help and without being restricted by geography. The idea of our online boutique has brought together two passions — preserving and discovering beautiful handmade goods and empowering women. The Little Market allows us to sell products that the artisans make, and women can support themselves and continue to make their amazing products.
Taylor Magazine: How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t yet know about it?
The Little Market: The Little Market is an online store that we founded almost three years ago to provide artisans with sustainable opportunities. Our online boutique has a curated collection of our favourite handmade goods from throughout the world. We work hard to find female artisans who are making beautiful fair trade products that we think our customers would love. Every purchase at The Little Market empowers female artisans and their families worldwide. We currently partner with more than 40 artisan groups in 18 countries. As part of our commitment to giving back, The Little Market is a nonprofit, and the profits are dedicated to expanding the company and reaching more artisan partners.
Taylor Magazine: Why is it so important to you?
The Little Market: Traveling has shown us that women do not receive equal rights worldwide. But when women are earning their own income, they gain rights and have a louder voice in their communities and in their homes. We find that women typically use extra income to send their children to school and to buy healthier, more nutritious food for their families. When women learn financial and job skills, they have more opportunities, such as being able to take better care of their families and their health. We are also motivated to help artisans preserve their handmade techniques and their cultural traditions. By providing a market for handmade goods, we are able to help preserve beautiful traditions that have been passed down for generations. We have seen that many people want to buy handmade products because they appreciate the work involved in creating each unique item.
Taylor Magazine: How do you find the artisans?
The Little Market: There are many different ways we find our artisan partners. There is an artisan application on our website. We also look for artisan groups during our travels, receive recommendations, and reach out to other members of the Fair Trade Federation. Occasionally, we will meet a group at a trade show such as NY Now.
Taylor Magazine: What is the most rewarding part about working with these women from all over the world?
The Little Market: The most rewarding part about working with our artisan partners is learning about the impact created through the sale of their handmade products. We have been told, for example, that domestic violence decreases when women earn their own income, and the families experience fewer parasites because they’re eating healthier food. The children also often become the first in their family to graduate from high school because the families can finally afford to pay school fees and don’t need the extra income that their children would bring in from working rather than going to school. These are concrete changes that our team and our customers make possible for our partners.
Taylor Magazine: For people who want to give back but don’t know how to start, what words of wisdom would you give them?
The Little Market: I love the quote by Anna Lappé that says, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I like to think of shopping as voting with your money. Every time a purchase is made, a vote is casted. It’s important to think about the well-being of the person behind everything you buy. You can look for fair trade symbols when you shop to cast your vote for a more fair world. You will usually pay more for a fair trade product, but it allows you to support the person behind the product and actively do good with every purchase you make.
Another way to be thoughtful and give back while shopping is to choose organic. Non-organic food is often sprayed with harmful pesticides. According to Human Rights Watch, “over 100 million children around the world work in hazardous conditions in agriculture, mining, domestic labor, and other sectors.” When purchasing organic and fair trade food, fewer people get exposed to harmful pesticides and poor working conditions.
Taylor Magazine: We want to hear about a day in your life when you go traveling to these wonderful countries. Run us through your typical routine.
The Little Market: Every travel day is different! We try to pack in as much as we can for each trip we take. We typically visit with artisan groups and search for inspiration at local marketplaces. We take many photos so that we can convey a story and share the experience with our shoppers. We also enjoy eating local cuisine and learning about the area’s culture through sightseeing adventures.
Taylor Magazine: What should we be looking out for from The Little Market in the near future?
The Little Market: We’re always interested in working with more artisan partners and expanding our product offering.
Taylor Magazine: How do you keep motivated and optimistic through potentially difficult and challenging times?
The Little Market: We recognise that the difficulties and challenges that we face are nothing compared to the struggles our artisan partners encounter every day. Their gratitude always keeps us working hard and motivates us. We work to create a meaningful impact for them and to help them improve their lives and their families’ lives.
Taylor Magazine: Running your own business must be incredibly rewarding but also challenging too. What’s the best part of what you do?
The Little Market: The best part about running The Little Market is knowing that everything we do creates a sustainable impact. Prioritising items on a to-do list is the most difficult. We have to be thoughtful about what project we focus on at what time. That can range from choosing which group to work with as well as which products to search for and develop to planning strategic partnerships and collaborations. There are so many things we want to do, and we have to be thoughtful about which we pursue first.
Taylor Magazine: What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs?
The Little Market: Definitely learn as much as you can before you begin! It’s helpful to intern and work in similar fields. You should also do something you are passionate about and are interested in so that it never actually feels like work.
Taylor Magazine: Do you have a place on your list that you would really love to visit but haven’t got round to yet?
The Little Market: We have always been wanting to visit Madagascar. This summer, we just added a beautiful collection from our first artisan partner from Madagascar. Mar Y Sol makes amazing fair trade goods, such as pom pom bags, and we would love to meet the artisans in person.
Taylor Magazine: Tell us a story from one of your trips that has really stuck with you and made an impact.
The Little Market: I recently traveled to Guatemala with American Jewish World Service. AJWS works to provide grants and financial support to human rights advocacy organizations worldwide and to put an end to poverty in developing countries. On our last day of the trip, we met with women who are a part of a women’s rights nonprofit. We went around the room, and everyone explained what they did. When I spoke about my role at The Little Market, the women were really excited and explained that although they are thankful to receive grants and donations, these resources do come to an end. They ultimately want to be able to support themselves on a long-term basis. All of them are weavers, and they said they want to sell their handmade goods. After our meeting, they met with the founder of Precious Hands and were eager to get their products ready for the global marketplace through our website. This was really powerful for me because one of the main reasons we started The Little Market was so that women would be able to support themselves and their families.
Taylor Magazine: Career highlight so far?
The Little Market: That trip was an exciting opportunity for me because the first time I went on a trip with AJWS it was about 15 years before then, and it is one of the organisations that inspired me to co-found The Little Market. It was a special moment for me to see how enthusiastic the women were to be a part of The Little Market and to have access to a wider customer base to sell their handmade goods. These women are able to stay at home and have a better quality of life as they craft their own goods and earn a sustainable income. I feel lucky that my passions for human rights and empowering women can come together at The Little Market.
Taylor Magazine: Where do you look for inspiration?
The Little Market: We love shopping in local marketplaces to find inspiration as we travel. We try to spend a lot of time in marketplaces, especially to find fair trade products we haven’t seen before and to discover products that are unique to that specific village. Most of our inspiration comes from our experiences while traveling.