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Conversations with the Inspiring Hannah Skvarla

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hannah Skvarla.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Hannah. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
Ever since I was little, my family taught me about the importance of giving back and helping others, locally and globally. It was something we constantly talked about, and it was a natural part of our lives. I was really lucky to have had opportunities to see the work of nonprofits and service organizations on the ground from really early on. We traveled with Landmine Survivors Network, American Jewish World Services, as well as Human Rights Watch, where later in life I also interned.

The story behind The Little Market begins with my friendship with Lauren Conrad. Lauren and I met while studying together at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Southern California, and we loved traveling together. I told Lauren stories from my visits with nonprofits and human rights organizations, and Lauren said she was interested in joining me on the next trip. In 2012, we traveled to Africa to meet with nonprofits supporting women and children to learn more about how these organizations operated. The women we met with were struggling to have a sustainable income, and they expressed how much they just wanted financial security and to be able to provide for their families.

We started brainstorming ways to give back, and one of the first things we decided on was that whatever we did, we wanted to ensure it wasn’t limited by geography. In 2013, we created The Little Market as an online platform to share handmade goods with a wider audience so that the talented women who made them could earn fair wages and provide for their families.

Five years later, we are now working with more than 60 artisan groups in over 25 countries, and we just opened our first brick-and-mortar store in the Pacific Palisades! I can’t believe how far we have come and how quickly we have grown. Our mission has still remained true to this day: to support dignified job opportunities for women, celebrate how beautiful artisan-made goods are, and raise awareness for social justice issues.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It definitely hasn’t been a smooth road. When it comes to business, I often say that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” We quickly discovered how complicated international shipping and customs could be. There are lots of communication challenges that come with working with people who don’t speak English or have limited Internet access.

In terms of advice, I always tell people to get as much experience as possible before starting your own venture. I would encourage young women to connect with one another and create a supportive network. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many women in my life have stepped in and given me great advice or been a sounding board. We can learn so much from one another, no matter which industry we are in. Lean on one another. Avoid self-doubt and follow what you’re passionate about.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into The Little Market story. Tell us more about the business.
The Little Market is a nonprofit, fair trade shop. We develop and sell handmade goods to support dignified job opportunities for women facing hardships.

We identify and search for artisan groups in remote areas so that we can extend their products’ distribution while also raising awareness about social justice and human rights issues their communities have faced. A lot of the handmade details in each item are being preserved through our products, so it’s an opportunity to celebrate artisanal techniques including candle making, basket weaving, sewing, and wood carving. Many of the techniques are passed down across generations and are often at risk of disappearing.

We also aim to work with female artisans because we know that investing in women has the power to transform communities. Many of the female artisans report using their income to send their children to school. These children are often first-generation high school graduates.

We are a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation and are dedicated to practicing fair trade principles, which helps to ensure the artisan groups we work with are earning a fair wage for their work. Through fair trade principles, marginalized and small-scale producers can earn a fair, sustainable wage, work in safe and supportive environments, implement environmentally conscious and sustainable practices, and preserve their cultural identity.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
It’s been exciting to see the growth of female entrepreneurs. Women are incredible multitaskers, which is an important quality for an entrepreneur. I am inspired by all of the women that are running for office. Women are great listeners and caretakers, which make women great for representing their communities.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal Photo: Yoni Goldberg for The Little Market, Other Photos: The Little Market

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