First up, is human rights activist Hannah Skvarla, who—together with Lauren—has changed the lives of artisans worldwide with their purposeful online store, The Little Market. From handmade bags to lifestyle goods, these inspiring besties (who met in the halls of FIDM’s Fashion Institute) have mastered the art of collecting unique treasures from all around the globe.
Here’s what Hannah had to say about her journey so far…
What inspired you and Lauren to partner up and start The Little Market?
Lauren and I became travel buddies when we went to Bali and then El Salvador. We loved exploring the local markets, and we had the opportunity to visit non-profit organizations in Tanzania and Uganda that were working with female artisans and entrepreneurs who were struggling to make ends meet. It was in the midst of these travels that The Little Market was dreamed up. We met these amazing, vibrant hard-working women who were creating beautiful products—products we knew our friends at home would love and purchase if they were able to do so. We thought we may be able to help create a larger marketplace so that these artisans could continue to create their beautiful products while also making a living wage. Our hope that that we would provide customers with the opportunity to purchase special pieces from around the world (each with its own story) and directly support the artisans who made them.
Can you tell us about the process of launching The Little Market from concept to reality?
We asked experts in International Development about the most sustainable way to set up an online store to support artisans from around the world. We partnered with non-profit Global Goods Partners in New York, to identify and work with artisans that shared our fair trade values.
What are a few of your daily responsibilities?
On a typical day, I work on everything from connecting with new artisan groups, designing products with existing artisan groups, updating the website with new products and pages, preparing new product descriptions and photo shoots, planning trips to visit artisan groups, emailing with customers, and writing blogs about human rights for the site.
Running a business is never easy. What keeps you motivated?
I am grateful every day to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of women and their families. The women we work with leave us at once humbled and moved to do more to connect artisans groups with markets.
You and Lauren have traveled to El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, Tanzania, and Uganda. Which of these places had the biggest influence on you and why?
In many ways, the last place we have the opportunity to visit always influences us the most. Meeting with the artisans in their homes and workshops, all of the data and statistics about a community fall away and suddenly you discover the faces, names, and stories that give context to each object. For example in March at Mayan Hands in Guatemala we had a lesson in using a loom while the children looked on. The experience of seeing first-hand the dedication of the artisans to preserving techniques that have been passed down through generations and to improve the lives of their families makes our travels unforgettable.
Can you share a funny travel story that you have experienced while visiting other countries?
I like to drink a lot of water. While traveling that means I often need to use the restroom when a western toilet is not available. While we were visiting artisans in Guatemala, Lauren and Yoni (our friend/photographer) captured this moment:
How has working with artisans impacted your life?
To be able to work with women who continue on with hope despite living with hardships from extreme poverty to unimaginable trauma moves us do as much as we can to bring their exquisite goods to customers. We are inspired by the artisans: their skills passed down across the generations, the treasures they craft one-at-a-time, and their delight in bringing much needed income to their families with their talents. We hope that each visitor to The Little Market will be as well.
What are two of your favorite products currently for sale on The Little Market?
I absolutely love our new candles. Lauren and I had the opportunity to visit Prosperity Candle is Massachusetts this past December. We really enjoyed getting to see the candle making process and meet the incredible women artisans who make them. After being inspired by our visit with the artisans, Lauren and I spent a lot of time choosing our favorite scents. Right now, the honey scent is my favorite!
I use my overnight bag from Guatemala all of the time. It easily fits my laptop as well as other travel essentials! While we were in Guatemala we learned how ikat thread is made and how the artisans weave the thread to create beautiful designs.
What advice would you give to another woman looking to create a sustainable business?
I highly recommend volunteering or interning at non-profits that do work you are passionate about. Find internships and work that offer experiences in a variety of workplaces. Through these experiences you will learn about your own skills and gifts—and you will have the opportunity to learn from others who have more experience than you. You won’t even realize how much you learn until you apply the knowledge to starting your business. Change is possible, and it is ok to be idealistic.
What has been the most rewarding experience since launching The Little Market?
Our work with The Little Market is incredibly rewarding. I love the opportunity to introduce shoppers to beautiful handmade products and raise awareness for fair trade and ethical purchasing. Positive feedback from the artisans keeps us motivated and inspired. We love hearing about how the income generated from the sales of our items empowers our artisan partners.
In what ways do you still want to see The Little Market evolve?
Over time we hope to continue to expand the number of artisans, artisan groups, and countries represented at The Little Market. To connect with new groups we follow advice from our customers, our colleagues, and visitors to the website from all over the world.
Thanks, Hannah! Start giving back by shopping online at The Little Market.
Who would you like to see me interview in my next Ladies Who Laptop?
Sound off in the comments below.