Inside The Little Market: How Lauren Conrad Grew a Nonprofit with her BFF
Reality TV star-turned-entrepreneur Lauren Conrad met human rights activist Hannah Skvarla a decade ago. The two bonded traveling the world together; in each new village they visited, they'd marvel over beautiful handmade goods created by local artisans. "After each trip, we would reminisce about the inspiring, hard-working women we met," Lauren told Bumble Bizz. "We started brainstorming."
Five years on, in 2013, Lauren and Hannah cofounded The Little Market as a sustainable marketplace for women to sell their wares. They both knew that empowering a woman by giving her the tools to succeed meant changing the lives of entire families and communities. Today, The Little Market carries ethically-sourced products made by 64 artisan groups in 28 countries.
The duo have also managed to pull off that rarest of feats: working alongside a best friend and staying sane. In their own words, here's how they did it.
How did The Little Market get its start?
Lauren: Hannah grew up traveling to support and volunteer with non-profit organizations. She would share the most amazing stories with me and I asked if I could join her on the next philanthropic trip. We traveled to Uganda and Tanzania to visit charities focused on helping women and children. It was life changing — and that’s where we decided to bring together our passion for empowering women and discovering one-of-a-kind handmade items. With The Little Market, we can create meaningful opportunities, combat poverty, empower artisans, and create social justice.
Hannah: We both wanted to do more to change the lives of children and women around the world. We wanted to figure out a way to give back in an impactful way. After connecting with international development and fair trade experts and combining our backgrounds in human rights and fashion, we founded The Little Market in 2013. By launching our marketplace, we give these women a sustainable way to support themselves and their children.
What's the response been like to The Little Market, and has social media helped or hindered your mission?
Hannah: We have been amazed by the response we have had from customers. People want to give back but often don’t know how or where to start. We are lucky to have an amazing audience on social media. In fact, social media is a great resource for people trying to learn about how to get involved and give back.
Lauren: Social media has actually created a desire. There are so many oversaturated spaces and I think in a way it has made people really drawn to us. We offer beautiful items, but the women behind each piece and their story is what sets us apart. Through social media, we have an online platform to share these one-of-a-kind pieces. It allows us to share the artisan’s inspirational stories — from their background and cultural traditions to the sustainable materials and social justice obstacles they overcome.
You're close friends who run a business together. How have you been able to make that work?
Hannah: I think we balance each other out really well. My background is vastly different from Lauren’s — she is a total pro at design and marketing. We’ve known each other a long time, so we don’t just talk about work. In fact, I make it a point to talk about work as little as possible so that the focus of our relationship is our friendship and not work.
We get along really well and have a lot of shared interests and a lot in common. Now that we are both moms we have even more to talk about. In addition, we are lucky to share some incredible girlfriends - which means we get to see each other more often at birthdays, showers, and other celebrations.
Lauren: Yes, totally. It’s not always about work. We talk on the phone a lot, so we’re always catching up on our kids, husbands, life in general, etc. Another element that set us up for success is that we didn’t start this to The Little Market to make money for ourselves. In fact, neither of us have ever taken a salary. We have been on the same page and clear about expectations from the start. Our goal is to help as many women as possible and it’s something that we work really hard at.
What advice would you give other women looking to achieve their dreams professionally?
Hannah: Take it an hour at a time. Looking too far ahead can feel overwhelming. I always encourage the people in my life to take a break and remember to give back. It’s incredibly fulfilling and you realize it’s good to focus on something other than yourself and your goals.
Lauren: It’s possible. Don’t think for a second that it isn’t. It’s a matter of how you approach each challenge, how you react when you fall versus how you react when you succeed. To echo Hannah, do what you can to give back to your community. It gives you a different kind of education and opens you up to something new and significant.