Looking for home decor that supports economic justice for women around the world? A non-profit fair trade shop that sells ethically and sustainably sourced artisan goods, The Little Market offers an array of unique home products and accessories that are handmade by women in underserved communities, including people with disabilities, those in extreme poverty, and survivors of sex trafficking.
Hannah Svarla and Lauren Conrad, co-founders of The Little Market, decided to launch this artisan boutique as a mission-driven non-profit. The artisans receive 100% of the profit. The shop partners with organizations that provide ethical labor conditions, fair wages, and sustainable production. Sustainability plays a crucial role in the effort to create dignified work that benefits communities for generations to come.
The non-profit has roots in human rights — both Skvarla and Liesl Gerntholtz, Chief Programme Coordinator, spent years working with Human Rights Watch and a number of other international human rights NGOs.
Skvarla first envisioned the need for a store like The Little Market when, at age 15, she traveled to Vietnam with a group of women from Los Angeles through the Landmine Survivors Network. Skvarla and the other women met survivors and purchased products crafted by local artisans. “I remember thinking if you could just get beautiful items like this back to LA, you could change people’s lives,” Skvarla says.
She went to fashion school, where she met Conrad. Skvarla would return from traveling with nonprofits and tell Conrad about it. “We came back to this idea of an online marketplace,” says Skvarla. “Lauren and I both love to shop and we love to support women. At every nonprofit all the women we met time and time again just said they wanted to be able to support themselves and their families.”
Skvarla cites the ripple effect women have in their communities: When women have the means to invest in themselves, their children, and their communities, they break cycles of inequality and poverty, such as being able to send all their children to school instead of having to choose — oftentimes it’s the girls who don’t get to attend. Many of the jobs that The Little Market supports are ones that women can do from home, such as basket weaving or knitting, which helps remove barriers for working mothers.
The Little Market selects artisan groups through an extensive application and vetting process. Gerntholtz explains that The Little Market prioritizes the treatment of artisans, only working with groups that pay fair wages and do not employ child labor. Gerntholtz stresses the importance of working with groups that give artisans leading roles in business strategy and decision-making. Skvarla and Conrad’s organization partners with 65 artisan groups in over 25 countries.
The Little Market limits its environmental footprint by using eco-friendly materials, such as biodegradable packing peanuts. Among the sustainable products are baskets made of local grasses and recycled grain sacks by artisans in Tanzania and textiles from Guatemala containing only natural dyes.
“One of the things we’re really proud of is our gift box line,” says Skvarla. The Little Market found an artisan group in India that repurposes garment waste to create gift boxes, stationery, and gift tags. Soon, Skvarla hopes this will expand to office supplies.
The Little Market aims to spread conscious consumerism. “We’re really trying to help our customers understand the nature and the origin of the products so that they can connect personally to artisans,” says Gerntholtz, “and ideally that will then begin to include the sustainable efforts behind making products.”
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