chic crush: the little market | interview

the little market lauren conrad and hannah skvarla
Once upon a time, Lauren Conrad studied at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (Hills flashback, anyone?) and met Hannah Skvarla, the Co-Founder of The Little Market. These besties quickly discovered that they shared a love for design, world culture and making a difference in the lives of women and their families. Best friends make a powerful duo, right? Since meeting, Lauren & Hannah have traveled to El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, Tanzania and Uganda! You go, girls! That’s when The Little Market was born — an online marketplace that sells ethically sourced handmade goods to change the lives of artisans. The products are handcrafted, and made with a ton of lovin’ (meet the beautiful artisans here!) 

lauren conrad the little market
c/o little market instagram
Hannah Skvarla is the co-founder of The Little Market, an online marketplace that sells ethically sourced goods made by artisans around the world. Hannah has traveled extensively in the developing world. To source products for The Little Market she has visited artisans in Bolivia, India, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, and Peru. As a member of Human Rights Watch‘s California Committee South’s Executive Committee, she has had the opportunity to see HRW’s work firsthand through trips to Burma, Congo, Colombia, Thailand and Turkey. She has visited projects sponsored by Landmine Survivors Network in Vietnam and Cambodia as well as American Jewish World Services (AJWS) in El Salvador. In Africa she has traveled with Tostan in Senegal, CARE in Uganda, CamFed in Tanzania, Adoption Advocates International in Ethiopia, a documentary film team in Cameroon and The Fund for Global Human Rights in Burundi. 

the little market store

Where do you find daily inspiration for your business? 

Our inspiration comes from the change that each order makes in the life of a woman artisan and her family. Our orders mean that the women – who live in a remote part of the country that offers limited employment opportunities – can provide a steady source of income to their families that makes possible food, education, and healthcare for their children. While we were visiting artisan in Guatemala, the women told us that since they began earning an income, they can now afford to send their children to school and they are experiencing less domestic violence.
Where is your favorite place to travel? (I know this one may be impossible to answer! You’ve been to so many beautiful destinations!)

You are right; it is impossible to pick a favorite place! In many ways, our favorite place is the last place we had the opportunity to visit. Meeting with the artisans in their homes and workshops, all of the data and statistics about a community fall away and suddenly you discover the faces, names, and stories that give context to each object.  For example in March at Mayan Hands in Guatemala Lauren had a lesson in using a loom while the children looked on!   The experience of seeing first-hand the dedication of the artisans to preserving techniques that have been passed down through generations makes our travels unforgettable.
In what way does a purchase from The Little Market help others?

The Little Market seeks out artisan groups that are committed to these key values: fair wages, workplace safety, and the well being of community families.  As an online marketplace we strive to raise awareness of the women artisans in struggling communities, their families, and their villages, while connecting them with customers who respect their traditional crafts and believe in purchases that allow the artisans to become self-sustaining.  Each and every order provides much needed income to the artisan group.  In addition, many of the groups provide services in the areas of education, healthcare, and job training to the artisans, and some groups provide all necessities from food to shelter.  Our hope is that when an object is received as a gift or placed in your home, it will leave The Little Market supporters inspired to learn more about the artisans and their crafts.
What is your favorite item and why?

With summer fast approaching, I love the overnight bag, of lovely fabrics hand-woven by women artisans in the highlands of Guatemala. The bag comes in 10 colors for the season and has room for all of your goodies for a trip or beach day. Each purchase supports Maya Traditions, the non-profit social enterprise that employs 180 weavers, serving 500 family members with education and health programs.  
What do you do on a day to day basis?

On a typical day I work on everything from connecting with new artisan groups, designing products with existing artisan groups, updating the website with new products and pages, preparing new product descriptions and photo shoots, planning trips to visit artisan groups, emailing with customers, and writing blogs about human rights for the site.

How has this business impacted your life?

To be able to work with women who continue on with hope despite living with hardships from extreme poverty to unimaginable trauma moves us do as much as we can to bring their exquisite goods to customers.  We are inspired by the artisans – their skills passed down across the generations, the treasures they craft one-at-a-time, and their delight in bringing much needed income to their families with their talents – and hope that each visitor to will be as well.  We are grateful every day to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of women and their families, who leave us at once humbled and moved to do more to connect artisans groups with markets.
Besides purchasing from the shop, what can we do to help support the artisans?

When you visit The Little Market website you will find profiles of each artisan group so you can learn more about where the artisans live, the roots of their crafts, and the services available to their families.  Our blog allows visitors to follow human rights issues in the news at home and abroad.  As awareness of the need for women’s education, employment and basic human rights grows, we come to understand how we can make a difference as volunteers, supporters, and consumers in an around-the-world community.    

Where do you see The Little Market in 5 years?

Over time we hope to continue to expand the number of artisans, artisan groups, and countries represented at The Little Market. To connect with new groups we follow advice from our customers, our colleagues, and visitors to the website from all over the world.  
I bet working with your bestie is a ton of fun! How do you inspire one another?

I feel very lucky to work with one of my closest friends. Lauren has great taste and is a talented designer. She inspires me because she uses her style to empower the artisans we work with. We use The Little Market’s blog to raise awareness for the human rights issues we are most passionate about.
What advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs’ looking to start a business? 

For students and aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of establishing a non-profit or social enterprise, explore what really speaks to you.  For us, the opportunity to work with design and travel to empower women is a dream. Internships and volunteer situations offer experiences in a variety of settings. Through these experiences learn about your own skills and gifts – and what others do better than you do!  
*each item has a story, don’t forget to view the product info and origin 

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A huge thank-you to Hannah, and Lauren for taking the time out of their hectic schedules for Heart of Chic! I am beyond honored, and flattered to have the Little Market on my blog. I am so very proud of these girls for following their passions, and making a difference in the world. The Little Market has been an inspiration to my life — to follow my heart, and utilize my talents for the greater good. XX