Upon its launch in 2013, The Little Market, founded by Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla has aimed to operate differently from other philanthropic brands, mainly in that "it's actually a nonprofit," says Conrad to The Zoe Report. "The female artisans we support are our number one priority. We are unique because only the artisans profit off of their work."
The former reality-TV star continues, acknowledging that, yes, there are plenty of companies with initiatives that give back, which is "a great practice as long as they’re transparent about it." The Little Market, which ethically purchases and sells female artisan-made home goods, children's products, gifts, and accessories from around the world, prides itself on staying true to its not-for-profit status. "We don’t have any shareholders," explains Conrad, who was inspired to start the retail concept after a trip to Africa. “When we founded The Little Market, our goal was to give back, create positive change, empower women, and raise awareness around women's rights."
To do this, Conrad and Skvarla seek partners in "underserved communities including refugees, women who have experienced homelessness, and individuals rising above poverty," says Conrad. These artisans are vetted through an online application program on The Little Market's site or through word-of-mouth referrals, social media, and networking opportunities. “Hannah and I have traveled across the world to search for remote markets where there is a need for a greater platform and audience," explains Conrad. "We’ve visited India, Bangladesh, Mexico, and Guatemala, to name a few places, and it’s so special to us to meet the artisan groups and social enterprises in person to learn more about their stories."
One of these stories belongs to Peruvian doll maker Gina Gallegos Tenoria, who says her work with The Little Market has helped her support her children's education and run her household. “I feel happy and proud when I see a finished doll," says Tenoria. "I feel fulfilled seeing what I can achieve and also knowing that I can help other women and their families, as well as my own. [...] Knowing that I can pay my expenses gives me a lot of peace because I always work, this gives me economic independence."
In an effort to immerse consumers in The Little Market's mission, shoppers have the option to shop by cause, which includes everything from homelessness, disability rights, human trafficking, domestic violence, and indigenous populations. These causes are tied to products like reusable gift totes, accessories, jewelry, candles, spa goods, home décor, glassware, dining, kids items, and gifts. For example, one of Conrad’s favorite artisan groups is Prosperity Candle, a US-based social enterprise that invests in female entrepreneurs living in poverty. Every candle purchased helps provide a living wage for the Prosperity employees, who have recently resettled from refugee camps.
As a nonprofit, The Little Market prioritizes fair wages for all its artisan partners. “We never want to place a burden on them, rush orders, or cause stress," says Conrad. "We are very flexible and put the person before the product. We pay every artisan group fairly, promptly, and in full." (The groups also have full discretion to determine their prices while each group has a different scale, structure, and size as they don’t employ the artisans directly.) As for sales revenues and donations, The Hills alum insists they are all retained within the nonprofit and reinvested back into the artisan groups and social enterprises they source from.
Beyond fair pay, Skvarla says The Little Market's mission is to also ensure "a safe, supportive work environment, creating sustainable opportunities for underserved communities, practicing transparency, and implementing environmentally conscious standards." She explains that, to confirm the aforementioned checklist, the nonprofit's Artisan Program and Product Development teams conduct thorough analyses of the work environments and groups’ stories during the on-boarding process "so that we understand exactly who’s behind the product, how it’s made, and where it’s coming from.”
At its latest event on March 6, in honor of International Women’s Day, The Little Market teamed up with Amazon Handmade to spotlight and empower its local female artisan groups, including the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles. The organization provides intensive job training and transitional employment opportunities for homeless women. (The artisans at the center are currently making exclusive hand soaps for The Little Market.)
Quilt-maker Josna Khatun says her life has benefited from her partnership with The Little Market through Bangladesh-based artisan group Basha. "I was never able to send my firstborn son to school," writes Khatun on The Little Market blog. "Now I can pay house rent and send my second child to school. [...] I am proud of myself. I am earning for my family. I do not need to be dependent on others. I can provide for my family. I hope to continue my work as long as I live."