Lauren Conrad Goes Global with The Little Market

Style-savvy entrepreneur Lauren Conrad branches into e-commerce with an online boutique featuring handcrafted designs from around the globe.

Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla during their travels. Image courtesy Yoni Goldberg.

Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla during their travels. All images courtesy Yoni Goldberg.

Fashion designer, New York Times best-selling author and lifestyle curator Lauren Conrad dons an impressive C.V. and covetable style to boot. While you may remember the former reality TV star from her days on the MTV series Laguna Beach and The Hills, Conrad has been quietly building an empire that would make Martha Stewart proud.

One of her most recent ventures melds her philanthropic spirit with her entrepreneurial skills, and allows her to travel the globe with her best friend. Conceived during a trip to Africa with fellow Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising alumnae Hannah Skvarla, The Little Market was born out of the pair’s love of market finds and a desire to provide an outlet for creative women to sell their handcrafted designs.

Since then the two have travelled to such countries as India, El Salvador, Nepal and Uganda, and have built a solid network of women artisans who benefit directly from all the purchases. With a focus on collaborating with smaller artisan groups that are often the most disadvantaged and marginalized, The Little Market works directly with Global Goods Partners, which assist the artisans with professional, sustainable development.

The one-of-a-kind pieces, hand-picked by Conrad and Skvarla, range from market baskets woven in Ghana to cozy Alpaca scarves handmade in Bolivia. An added bonus for shoppers is that each artisan group gets a bio on the site explaining not only where they live but also how they benefit from the collaboration.

We had the chance to chat with Conrad and Skvarla about travelling together, how they stay stylish on the road, and what’s next.

You two have travelled to so many amazing countries already for The Little Market. How did you decide where you wanted to go first? Was there a region you knew you wanted to explore?

Our first official trip for The Little Market was to India, just over a year ago. We decided to travel there first because we had several artisan groups that we were in product development with. We were especially excited to meet with Destiny Reflection, a non-profit based in Calcutta that empowers victims of sex trafficking by providing a sustainable livelihood. After supporting the rescue of women from brothels, Destiny Foundation helps to find safe housing for them and provides healthcare, therapy, and skill training. Their mission and what they do is so incredibly aligned with our values. Empowering women is at the core of why we started The Little Market and we felt it would be an inspiring start to our journey—which it was!

Conrad gets a lesson from a local artisan in Nepal. Image courtesy Yoni Goldberg.

Conrad gets a lesson from a local artisan in Nepal.

What has been the most eye-opening destination you’ve been to so far and what surprised you the most? 

Our recent trip to Guatemala was definitely an eye-opening experience! It was our first time visiting. The country is beautiful and the people are so incredibly welcoming. We met with eight artisan groups and it was fascinating to learn how certain textiles are made—ikat, for example. It really gave us a whole new appreciation for this hand-woven design. Many of the women artisans work from their homes to generate income to support their families. We were often told that the sales of their goods were allowing them to send their children to school; in many cases these would be the first generation in the family to graduate high school.

Food and travel go hand in hand. Any memorable meals or drinks you’ve had during your travels together?

We loved eating a new variety of dal (lentils) each day on our trip to India.

What are some of your favourite fashion items to travel with when visiting a tropical destination? 

When we travel we like to be comfortable. For the flight we bring an alpaca scarf from The Little Market, a good book, and magazines. We always pack a sundress, sandals and sunglasses.

What are the top three beauty items you pack on your travels?

Our top three beauty items that are must-haves are tinted sunscreen, lip balm, and mascara.

Skvarla and Conrad search through the markets in Nepal. Image courtesy Yoni Goldberg.

Skvarla and Conrad search through the markets in Nepal.

You’ve come across many beautiful handmade items over your travels. What’s one of your favourites that’s featured on The Little Market? 

Hannah: I love the overnight bag because it is so versatile. It is made from lovely fabrics hand-woven by women artisans in the highlands of Guatemala. The bag comes in 10 colours for the season and has room for all of your goodies for a trip, weekend getaway or just a day at the beach. Each purchase supports Maya Traditions, the non-profit social enterprise that employs 180 weavers, serving 500 family members with education and health programs.

Lauren: I love the trunks we found while travelling in India. They are classic and beautiful! We were thrilled to learn that Nappa Dori provides its artisans with interest-free loans. In addition, they donate a portion of their profits to Harmony House, a community centre for the women and children of the Delhi slums.

Discovering local gems is one of the best parts of travelling. Do you have any tips on how to navigate a local market?

We have visited a lot of local markets during our travels. We try to go to lesser-known ones because they tend to have more local handmade products, whereas others may have more souvenir-type items. We always try to get to the markets early to avoid the heat!

Where is The Little Market planning on visiting next and what are you most excited about? 

We are currently planning a trip to Mexico. We are excited about embarking on our next adventure in the near future, wherever it may take us!

Any new products coming this fall we should look out for?

We started working with a new artisan group called Prosperity Candle, and we are going to be carrying holiday scent candles that would be great gifts for this upcoming holiday season!

This story was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of Travel & Style Magazine.