When Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla set out to create their online fair trade shop The Little Market, they did so with the intention to empower women all over the globe. Now several years into their venture, they are getting ready to launch their next venture: a brick and mortar shop where fans can now hold these women-made, formerly online exclusives in their hands.
Conrad and Skvarla have empowered women all over the planet to create and sell goods via The Little Market, and it's clear that they are one another's own source of inspiration: The two met while studying at Los Angeles' Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), and have been travel buddies ever since.
So, how did these two turn a friendship into an awesome business partnership? Refinery29 spoke to Conrad and Skvarla at Create & Cultivate's Los Angeles conference about The Little Market and what it took to create the non-profit.
How did you know Little Market was the idea to pursue as a business venture?
Hannah Skvarla: We had talked about it a lot before, but in 2012 we took a trip to Africa, to see some non-profits that were focused on women and children. We really wanted to figure out a sustainable way to be able to help women and children around the world without limit to geography. So we came up the idea of an online marketplace where women who are already making beautiful handmade goods could have access to a bigger marketplace so that they could bring sustainable income to their families and create change for their future.
Lauren Conrad: It all happened very organically... Hannah and I had been travel buddies for years, and we actually met in FIDM and were both interested in design. Whenever we would go traveling together, we would always seek out these marketplaces to buy gifts for everybody so it just sort of happened very organically which is great. We were able to combine all of our interests and create something that could just continue to grow and reach a limitless amount of people.
When did you know it was a success, and what are your markers for success?
HS: For The Little Market we measure success by the number of women we can help. When we started, we found we had eight artisan groups who were from five different countries and we currently work with over 40 groups in over 20 countries. So we’ve been able to expand our reach greatly, and on top of that, it’s the stories we hear from the artisans.
LC: I think that when we’re able to see results from the business opportunities we were able to create, that’s what’s most rewarding, and that’s how we measure success. When we’re hearing stories from women about how domestic violence has gone down at home because they’re able to financially contribute, that to us is success. We hear so many of those stories and it’s amazing, and it just makes us want to work that much harder.
Who were your role models in business?
LC: I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of very smart women running companies ... I was always so impressed with women that were kind to everybody but still strong. I think there’s this idea that women in charge are a little tougher, but I think you can be well liked and fair to everybody but still successfully run a business.
Do you have any advice for people who want to go into business with friends?
HS: One thing we are really lucky about is that we were friends first, and we already had established trust and understanding of each other and each other’s work ethics. One of the things we did at the very beginning to protect our friendship was we established, 'Here’s our expectations, here’s our roles,' so there was no confusion moving forward and [we could] avoid any type of conflict.
What does work/life balance look like for you?
LC: It’s different for both of us. We both have families, both have kids, and lots of projects. Hannah’s worked in nonprofit for years so she’s constantly working on something in addition to The Little Market, and I have additional successes. I feel like we both like to be very busy, which works out.
HS: I think also for both of us there’s not a set schedule.
LC: We’re also very much multitaskers, I remember in the very beginning we were still coming up with website design and planning out things. We would do 'hiking meetings.' We would go on a hike and take notes on phones, and we were able to accomplish two things at once.
What are you looking to create and cultivate in 2018?
LC: We’re opening a brick and mortar store in the Palisades! I think one of the things that’s so cool about the products we carry is a lot of them are one of a kind. It can be a bit tedious, photographing them all and putting them on the website, so I think that when you’re able to just put an order for artists and say, 'get creative' — it’s so cool. A lot of these products, you see the value when you hold them in your hands.
HS: We’re really excited for people to be able to touch and feel and everything and see it in person. To be able to build their own collection if it’s a one of a kind item. Even something like our glassware, which we don’t consider one of a kind. Each piece is hand-blown and then hand-etched. So if you get a set, they’ll all be different widths, different heights, and some people like it when it varies more, some people want them to be more similar. In person, someone can actually choose and build their own collection.