Imagine having the one of-a-kind wares of fanciful markets, street vendors, and open-air souks found in remote corners of the Earth right at your fingertips. Handicrafts from far-off places like Tanzania, Bolivia, Thailand, Ethiopia, Nepal, and Mexico are just a click away, rather than a plane ride away. Welcome to The Little Market.

We talked to founders Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla to find out how they bring these uncommon handicrafts to our doorsteps and what impact their inspiring mission has made around the world.

Travel is what led you both to start The Little Market project—how did that happen, and what criteria did you use to select your initial eight artisan organizations?

We were inspired to start The Little Market after visiting different markets around the world and seeing the beautiful products that local artisans were making. Many people still produce handmade goods using the same techniques that have been passed down in their culture for generations. However, most of these artisans were only selling to a limited local market, because they lack the resources to expand their scope. With The Little Market, we hope to change that. We specifically wanted to focus on female artisans, because women around the world are still less educated, less healthy, and experiencing more violence than their male counterparts. By helping these talented women earn a fair wage, we hope that they can break the cycle of poverty, support themselves and their families, and improve their lives. We chose our initial eight artisan organizations because of the fair trade practices that they were using. We felt strongly that those groups had an interest in creating a mutually beneficial relationship that would support their artisans. Each group does more than just help its artisans sell products; they provide business management training, skills workshops, educational resources, and more.

Do you have input regarding which products the artisans create, or do you seek them out specifically for what they are already producing?

We seek out artisans specifically for the techniques they have mastered. We are drawn to each artisan group by the beautiful products that they are producing. After establishing a partnership, we often work with the artisan group to choose the colors and designs that we believe fit best with The Little Market. On occasion, we help develop new products that we think our customers might be interested in.

Tunesian serving bowl

How do you communicate with them—particularly those in remote locations?

Most of our artisans are organized into groups or cooperatives that help them coordinate products, design, inventory, and sales. If possible, we like to meet with the artisan group in person when we first develop a partnership. That way, we can get to know them, see the products firsthand, and develop a relationship with the artisans beyond just a virtual one. Once we begin working together, we usually communicate via email, Skype, and telephone.

How do the women learn their skills?

Every artisan group is different, but typically the artisans use indigenous techniques. In many cases, skills are passed from mother to daughter at a very young age. Many of them have been perfected over centuries, making them nearly impossible to replicate using modern techniques.

Guatamalan Overnight Bag

How has The Little Market affected its artisans’ communities? How has it improved their lives?

One group in particular, Prosperity Candle, works with female refugees who have relocated here to the United States from Burma. The group helps women learn the skills of candle-making and gives them opportunity for advancement and an ownership stake in the company. Many of the women are mothers, and their children may be the first in their families to finish school. Prosperity Candle is about much more than just providing employment—it is a social enterprise with the power to break the cycle of poverty for female refugees and their families.

See behind the scenes at Prosperity Candle from The Little Market on Vimeo.

Your website asks shoppers for input to source new talent. What do you see for the future?

We are always looking to grow and add more artisan partners, especially from countries and communities where we don’t yet have a presence. And we really love hearing about new artisans and products from our shoppers! There are a lot of talented groups out there who share our fair trade principles—it’s impossible to find them all on our own. The artisans we’re looking to connect with often live in rural areas, don’t have a website, and don’t have regular access to internet. So we’ve been lucky to have received many connections through our shoppers. It speaks to the power of social media, as many suggestions come from our followers all over the world who know of amazing artisans in their countries. We’re also in development on some really exciting products right now that will be released later this year. With handmade products, the wait is sometimes long—but well worth it! You can always check our website for the newest additions. Visit us at thelittlemarket.com.

Prosperity Candle

 

Read the full article in the Spring/Summer edition of FEMME ROUGE Magazine here!