Lauren Conrad is no reality TV has-been, to say the least. A decade later, and with her first child on the way, the former star of Laguna Beach and The Hills has parlayed a flare for on-screen drama into a fashion and retail empire complete with best-selling novels, multiple fashion lines, and, now, The Little Market, an online fair trade shop empowering a network of global artisans to rise above the poverty line.
With The Little Market, Conrad and partner Hannah Skvarla are supporting female artisans around the world by selling their handmade goods to socially conscious consumers who value ethical and sustainable manufacturing, not just stylish design. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership that allows customers to purchase beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces while enhancing the lives of women makers — it’s a far cry from tube tops, spray tans, and beachside boy beef with Heidi Montag and Stephanie Pratt.
Appropriately, the journey to the Little Market began in Africa, home to many of the market’s skilled craftswomen. “When we were trying to come up with the concept for The Little Market Hannah and I were visiting a girl's school in Africa,” Conrad tells us. “While we were there, we had the chance to speak to a lot of the students. When we asked them if there was anything they needed their requests were heartbreaking. Water, vegetables, and a bed. At the very end of our visit it began to rain and the girls started dancing around. The rain meant that they would not have to make their daily four hour round-trip walk to get freshwater and they would be able to read their books in the daylight because they have no electricity and can't study at night.”
Building a marketplace for remote regions devoid of technology isn’t always easy, but Conrad forges ahead with the help of her team. “Language barriers, internet access, long lead times, and customs all can make the process challenging. Fortunately, we have an awesome team who always seems to get it done somehow.”
Moreover, in a culture that increasingly craves fast fashion, it’s all the more important for The Little Market to establish that resonant emotional connection with its audience — to showcase the people behind the product, the lives who benefit from the exchange. “The more a consumer sees value in the story behind the product, the more likely they are to take an interest it where it comes from,” says Conrad, who knows a thing or two about design and manufacturing, herself a Kohl’s fashion mogul. “Continuing to tell these stories and see products for so much more than they appear to be will encourage others to do the same. Whether it's a shoe made from reclaimed plastic or an artisan made product that can help send girls to school, sometimes the message is just as important as the trend.”
As The Little Market continues to make big moves, Conrad navigates the murky waters of being your own boss — she even allows herself at least one day a week off. “Even though you often have to work through the weekend you can give yourself a Tuesday off. It's important to have time to focus on things that aren't work related and to clear your mind. I've found that I'm happier and more productive this way,” advises Conrad, who knits, hikes, and hits the beach with her pups in her spare time and says having a partner has helped her to become more selfless. She’s also learning to be less hard on herself. “There was definitely a point in my life when I took on too much and was burning the candle at both ends. Since then, I've learned the value in saying no and learned to delegate. It can be hard to trust others to work on a brand that you spent so much time on, but you can't do it all,” muses the soon-to-be-new-mama.
At the heart of The Little Market is its mission to support women artisans around the world, but let’s not forget the work that’s left to do right here at home. “Female empowerment means looking at being a woman as a strength not a weakness. Because let's be honest, we are pretty damn strong.”