Since she first appeared on our TV screens almost 15 years ago as the breakout star of the seminal MTV reality show Laguna Beach, Lauren Conrad has been an aspirational figure for a generation of women as we figure out everything from what to wear to how to build a career. In addition to her long-running clothing line with Kohl’s and her eponymous website, these days, she’s focused on The Little Market, a non-profit shop featuring a curated selection of home goods, accessories, and gifts crafted by artisans around the world, which she operates with friend Hannah Skvarla. Though founded in 2013, The Little Market opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Pacific Palisades, CA over the weekend.
Conrad, who spoke to Refinery29 by phone, recalls that she and Skvarla, who first met as classmates at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and then reconnected several years later, came up with the idea after traveling together to Tanzania and Uganda. “We were visiting a lot of non-profits, particularly those focusing on women and children,” Conrad recalls. "We kept meeting female artists and there was so much opportunity to help them by providing a marketplace for them to sell their goods on.”
Currently, the non-profit works with artisans across over 20 countries, most of whom live in remote regions or rural areas where access to sustainable sources of income are limited. They have also worked with homeless women in downtown Los Angeles and at-risk mothers in Chicago, as well as refugees from Burma and Congo that have been resettled in the US.
In addition to perfectly matching Conrad’s signature trendy-feminine aesthetic, both the website and the store’s Instagram account are filled with stories from and about the artisans they work with. Like the website, The Little Market’s brick-and-mortar location features everything from blankets and towels to jewelry and handbags. Skvarla and Conrad say they hope the store will become “top-of-mind for grab-and-go gifts,” as Skvarla puts it. They also hope having a physical location will help customers develop a greater understanding of what they’re helping to support.
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"I am proud that through my weaving, I am able to send my children to school and to buy decent clothes for us all. Best of all, I am in charge of our finances. I support our family without being dependent on my husband." - Hadija Jibulilo, one of the artisans we work with in Tanzania The Little Market was founded to support labor opportunities and help women earn a fair living wage. We develop products to create work for women in need. Every time you shop at The Little Market, you empower women around the world to rise above poverty and transform their lives.
“Something that’s really great about our product is that a lot of times, it’s one-of-a-kind. They’re handmade, and it’s the type of value that you can’t always really appreciate until you see it in person,” Skvarla explains.
While there have been rumors swirling recently about Conrad’s potential return to reality television as part of an upcoming Hills reboot slated to follow former co-star Whitney Port, she declined via her publicist to comment on that. For now, she’s busy balancing motherhood with the business of making a difference in the world. Conrad and Skvarla say they’re hoping to expand both the number of artisans they work with and the range of products they offer, and that more physical stores could be on the horizon.
“We have such an amazing team here,” Conrad says of the organization’s 20-person staff. “It's [about] surrounding yourself with people that support the mission and really love what they do. It's such a great place to work. There's such a good vibe here, and we’re really lucky in that way.”