Lauren Conrad’s The Little Market Economically Empowers More Than 1,000 Women in 25 Countries

·3 min read

Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla initially crossed paths in 2005 when both were enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Irvine, California. Conrad, then on MTV’s The Hills, filmed some scenes for the show on campus. “We bonded over a shared love of fashion and, later, traveling and empowering women,” Skvarla says. “We wanted to find a unique and meaningful way to give back.”

After visiting several women-oriented nonprofits in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, the two Orange County natives saw an opportunity “to create something where there was no limit geographically to the number of women we helped,” says Skvarla, explaining how they reconnected to a passion for sourcing special, handcrafted goods at global markets.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

Their shared mission translated into the nonprofit, online fair-trade shop The Little Market, founded in 2013 to economically and socially support women artisans and their families in underserved communities worldwide. A brick-and-mortar store debuted in Palisades Village in September 2018.

“I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to build a platform during my time on television, and I wanted to use it responsibly,” says Conrad. “Co-founding The Little Market allowed me to do just that. I’ve been able to take the experience and knowledge I’ve gained over my years working in retail and use it, while collaborating with our artisan partners.”

The organization works in 25 countries with about 75 nonprofits and social enterprises (including the Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, Downtown Women’s Center, Cast LA and ShemeshFarms) that employ more than 1,000 women. They have created over 1.25 million hours of work and strive to hit 2 million hours in 2023. During the pandemic, The Little Market, which sells everything from candles and linens to luggage tags and quilts, launched a pilot program to directly employ five women who were trafficked through L.A.

“When women have access to their own income, the ripple effect is incredible,” says Skvarla of the program as a whole. “Domestic violence decreases, mothers decide to invest in their own education, and they have extra money to send their daughters to school when typically only boys are sent.”

The pair have also tapped Hollywood connections to support the nonprofit. Jordana Brewster was one of the earliest advocates of The Little Market, while Melissa McCarthy, Eva Longoria, and Molly Sims serve on its advisory council. McCarthy incorporates The Little Market products into the home transformations on her new HGTV show, The Great Give Back, with Jenna Perusich. Kelly Ripa, another supporter, has similarly highlighted the nonprofit and its products during “Giving Tuesday” coverage on Live With Kelly & Ryan. And Charlize Theron was one of many stars to participate in The Little Market’s virtual Changemakers programming during the pandemic to highlight the increase in domestic violence and other issues affecting women.

As to how the Little Market model stands out, Conrad — who has two sons with husband William Tell and her own range of Lauren Conrad-branded product lines (including clothing, cosmetics and fragrance) — points to the curation. “We often found ourselves looking at fair-trade sites, saying, ‘I’d really like to support this cause, but I’m having a little bit of difficulty finding items that are my aesthetic or that I’m excited to gift to others.’ We felt there was a disconnect, where there was so much out there to offer that wasn’t readily available,” she says. “When we were traveling, we found incredible pieces and loved hearing the stories of the makers. We were so excited to share them.”

Conrad and Skvarla met with artisan women, including weavers practicing traditional techniques, in Guatemala in 2014. - Credit: Courtesy of The Little Market
Conrad and Skvarla met with artisan women, including weavers practicing traditional techniques, in Guatemala in 2014. - Credit: Courtesy of The Little Market

Courtesy of The Little Market

A version of this story first appeared in the June 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Click here to read the full article.