Long-time friends and O.C. natives Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla co-founded the nonprofit fair trade shop The Little Market with the intent of supporting a limitless amount of women and children in disadvantaged communities worldwide. Today, their pop-up at Fashion Island opens in time for the holidays with a unique curation of giftable goods and a focus on one-of-a-kind pieces.
“I think it’s exciting to be able to have a space in an area where we grew up,” says Conrad. “It’s also nice just to be so close to a store. We have a store in the Palisades and it’s amazing that Hannah’s in Santa Monica. I’m in Laguna Beach so it’s really exciting to be so close to a space that I can just pop into. I kind of got to be a part of building this store which was really fun. I think you’ll really be able to appreciate the value and the hard work that went into the items when you walk into the store. Every single piece tells a story of the region they’re from and the person who created it.”
Over the past six years, the sale of handmade goods ranging from personalized canvas totes from Bangladesh to handwoven baskets from Kenya has helped economically empower artisans with job opportunities.
“We came up with the concept while on a trip in Africa,” says Conrad. “We wanted to do something and take on a project that focuses on women and children, but we just didn’t know what that would be. We spent a lot of that trip meeting with different groups and talking about where the opportunity was. This model felt so organic. (Hannah and I) met in fashion school, we both really love design and merchandising, and the idea that we can go into all these different marketplaces and meet female artisans. We wanted to be able to support them, and provide them a marketplace. That seemed like just the simplest thing to do.”
The Little Market has been able to provide a platform to sell artisans’ handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces and also works closely with artisans by providing feedback and financial backing. “Because of our fair trade model, it means that we offer to pay for all the product upfront,” says Skvarla. “(These women) are literally choosing between feeding their family and buying materials to make a product. It can really keep you from being able to grow a business. We come in, we work on the product together, we give them design insight and feedback, and pay fair wages. Not only are we offering to pay upfront so they don’t have to take on the burden of the cost, we also guarantee we’ll pay them. Otherwise, women might be trying to make something and trying to sell it on the roadside. They have no access to a marketplace. It’s really about preserving these incredible cultures and traditions and creating a marketplace where we can help them sell their handmade goods.”
The items highlighted by The Little Market include beautifully crafted goods celebrating cultural techniques such as hand-blown and hand-etched glassware made from recycled glass by artisans in Mexico to hand-woven pouches from Guatemala using Mayan traditions. “I’m always fascinated by the textiles and everything from using natural dyes and watching how they create these colors to the weaving techniques,” says Conrad. “We’ve been able to go to so many different places all over the world. It’s incredible to see this craft that they’ve honed their whole life. Everything is done by hand. And some of the really intricate designs I remember sitting and watching women do them without even looking. It’s just muscle memory at this point and it’s incredible to see.”
Artisans positively impacted with every purchase include “refugees, people with disabilities, young mothers, survivors of sex trafficking, and individuals living in extreme poverty.” An important goal for The Little Market has been enabling these women to be in charge of their income. “Oftentimes in these households, families have to choose between sending their son or their daughter to school,” says Skvarla. “Traditionally, people send their sons but when women have money, they send their daughters too. That really keeps us going because that is where all the change is going to come from.”
Skvarla has been able to see first-hand the difference The Little Market has made on communities. “I think one of the stories that has always motivated us from early on is a trip from Guatemala where we met one of our artisan partners and they said from the sales of their handmade goods, their lives have changed drastically,” says Skvarla. “Everything from domestic violence in their homes going down to getting more rights to being able to provide healthier food for their kids to prevent diseases.”
To Skvarla and Conrad, being able to open two brick-and-mortars after primarily being an online store has been one of the highlights of the past six years. “That’s the first time we’ve been able to interact with our customers,” says Skvarla. “It’s really nice to be in the store and see what customers respond to. Lauren is also so good at merchandising, design, and setting up the room, so it’s been fun with both stores to be able to put a room together, and let people see how all these items from around the world look so good together, because online you’re just looking at photos. In person, you get to see the texture and the beauty.”
Shop everything from jewelry, personalized candles and totes, body products, gifts for kids, and home decor at the Fashion Island pop-up now through January 3. Visit today for the grand opening and enjoy a free canvas tote personalization with every purchase.
The Little Market
401 Newport Center Drive Suite A225