Lauren and Hannah founded The Little Market in October 2013.
Photos by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief

Chances are if you’ve strolled through Palisades Village since it opened on Sept. 22, you’ve seen The Little Market. From its Swarthmore storefront, you peer inside and see a brightly lit shop, filled with items like candles, bath salts and plates.

But you might not know the story behind the pieces.

Each item featured in the fair trade shop is the work of one of dozens of artisan partners that brand founders Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla work with around the world.

“I’m really proud of everything we carry at The Little Market because every product purchase directly impacts the lives of the artisans who made the piece,” Skvarla shared with the Palisadian-Post. “I love gifting our spa products that are made by women in need in the U.S. I have our glassware from Mexico at home; it’s hand-blown and etched by artisans with physical disabilities. I use our PURPOSEfull TOTES every day for everything from shopping at the Palisades farmers market or going to the gym. The wine bags and gift bags are my go-to gift for every occasion.”

Hannah and Lauren in The Little Market

Every piece features intricate details and has an incredible back-story, Conrad explained. Some of her favorite pieces are personalized candles (which can be customized with a message while you shop), the store’s collection of hand-painted blush ceramics from Morocco and tassel jewelry made by female artisans in Cambodia.

“There are a bunch of different ways that we find new products,” Conrad said. “We get referrals from our friends at grassroots nonprofits that work on the ground. Artisans reach out to us through the artisan application on our website. We do a lot of research to find new partners online and via social media.

“We focus on reaching women in marginalized communities who do not have the same opportunities as we do and seek to empower them by providing dignified employment opportunities and skill development training.”

Skvarla added that a lot of their inspiration comes from their travels—where the two are able to peruse local markets and meet with artisans directly. One example is when the pair learned about Bright Endeavors’ work to support at-risk young moms in Chicago; they then developed an entire line of sugar scrubs and soaking salts in Skvarla’s kitchen.

Skvarla and Conrad met in 2006 while studying at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising where they quickly connected over a shared love of design, wanderlust and the desire to empower women.

After traveling together to places like Bali, El Salvador, Tanzania and Uganda, the two were inspired to create a platform that would make it easier for friends, family and people around the world to access and purchase the products made by women who were selling their items in local markets they encountered.

The two had been running The Little Market nonprofit online shop for almost five years when they decided to open their first brick-and-mortar store in Palisades Village.

“We love the Pacific Palisades community and felt that Palisades Village would be the perfect fit for our first store,” Conrad said. “The Village is so welcoming and such a great place for families and friends to gather and spend time together. We also love that more than 20 of the stores are led by women—we’re surrounded by so many talented and creative women in a wonderful neighborhood.”

At home in Santa Monica Canyon

Skvarla, a Santa Monica Canyon resident, added that it has been a dream of theirs to have a brick-and-mortar store so customers could see the products in person and learn more about people who make them—and what better place than the Palisades?

“I really love that Pacific Palisades has such an incredible sense of community,” she shared. “I am a people-person and I love the small-town feel. I love taking my kids to get cookies from Rodolpho and Suzi at Gelson’s Bakery. I love knowing the entire staff at Cafe Vida. And I love supporting all of the lovely women at Ruby’s Nails.”

Now that the shop is nearing its two-month anniversary, the Post checked in for future plans for the brand.

“The more products we sell, the more lives we can impact and the more ways we can make a positive difference,” Skvarla said. “We are constantly working on new products and new partnerships with women in need. You can expect to see new products arrive almost every week.”

Conrad explained that opening up their first store has taught them a lot and that getting feedback from customers has been wonderful. The two are currently working to learn as much as possible, keeping an eye on opening more stores—possibly in Orange County, where Conrad has lifelong roots.

The pay-off for the founders’ hard work is well worth it.

“Women have often shared that they can use their income to educate their children, who are oftentimes the first generation in their families to graduate from high school,” Skvarla said. “The artisans can purchase healthier food and safer drinking water for their families. And in many cases, they have access to personal development and skill development programs. We feel so fortunate to work with so many talented women and share these pieces with the world.”

Conrad echoed a similar sentiment: “It’s really moving when we hear concrete examples of change from the artisans we work with. We have heard inspiring stories from women who have faced hardships such as domestic violence, trafficking and resettlement from their home countries. Through our partnership, women are able to gain economic empowerment and create a brighter future for themselves and their families.”

And that is how The Little Market makes a big difference.