Mama Muses with Hannah Skvarla | co-founder, the Little Market
I first found the Little Market online when I was on a search for baskets for my daughter’s room. I was looking for something special and was hoping I could find a company that supports women artisans and their local communities. Lo and behold, I found The Little Market! The Little Market is a 501(c)3 and works with around 70 artisan groups in 28 different countries by selling their beautiful products on The Little Mareket marketplace. This allows the artisans to receive more profit from their products and ultimately, help marginalized women, family, and communities thrive. Inspired much?
Interview by Kacy Byxbee, editor, Your Zen Mama
Who is in your family?
My husband, Ryan, and my two kids: Liora and Luca.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Orange County.
How old are your kiddos?
My daughter is almost 4 years old and my son is 8 months old.
Can you tell us more about The Little Market? How did you come up with the idea?
Lauren Conrad and I met while studying together at FIDM in Orange County, where Lauren shared with me that she wanted to do more to give back to others. In 2012, we traveled to meet with nonprofits on the ground in Africa that supported women and children. Over and over again, the women we met expressed their desire to earn a meaningful income so they could support their families. Many of these women were already making beautiful handmade goods that they would try to sell at local markets. Earning a profit was very challenging because they were not being compensated for the time it took them to travel, buy materials, and sell their products — and they were not reaching enough customers. We were inspired to create a marketplace that could expand their business potential and compensate them for all of their work. By combining Lauren’s background in design and my background in human rights, we founded The Little Market in 2013.
We want our customers to know that we were not profiting off of the artisans we are supporting. The Little Market is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and our mission is to create meaningful job opportunities for women in need and people in vulnerable populations all over the world. We work with individuals in disadvantaged communities, including women who are transitioning out of homelessness, Burmese and Congolese refugees, people with disabilities who face job discrimination, and survivors of domestic violence and abuse. We now work with nearly 70 artisan groups in 28 countries.
How have you and your world changed as you've grown more connected to communities outside of the US?
Having relationships with people all around the world has made me even more connected to the human rights issues others face. Everyone, regardless of background, deserves to be treated with equal respect and dignity. Everyone has the right to a dignified job, a fair wage, and a safe and supportive work environment. It’s important for us to acknowledge what is happening in marginalized communities and to advocate for human rights for everyone. And after becoming a mother myself, I feel even more motivated to work as hard as possible to help break the cycle of poverty for mothers around the world. When women have dignified job opportunities, they are able to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
How do you find the artisans you work with?
We connect with artisans in a handful of ways! We receive inquiries from potential partners through our website and artisan application, which our product development team and fair trade specialist thoroughly review to ensure organizations meet fair trade standards. A lot of great recommendations also come in from our friends that work in nonprofits around the world. Our team members attend trade shows and events to connect with potential partners in person and learn more about their products. Lauren and I have traveled to meet with several of the groups, and we find a lot of our inspiration from local markets across the world.
How have you seen bringing business into these different communities affect them?
We measure our impact based on the number of people we can create jobs for. The more products we sell, the more lives we can reach and positively impact. We’ve heard countless stories from the artisan groups we work with on how their lives have changed. Every time we take a trip to meet with artisans, we leave feeling motivated to work even harder. Women have reported a decrease in domestic violence and an increase in respect. They can purchase healthier food and safer drinking water for their families. They can send their children to school for better educational opportunities, and gain access to healthcare. And they participate in skill development and training programs, often for the first time.
How do you feel like people can be more connected to the larger world?
As shoppers, we have power with each of our purchases. Every dollar can be thought of as a vote for the kind of world we would like to live in. I encourage everyone to shop consciously, which means to consider the impact and values you are supporting with your purchase. For example, by shopping for organic produce at your local farmers market, you are supporting local jobs and a healthier way of life. Buying organic is better for the entire community — you and your family eat better quality food, the farmers who are caring for the produce are not exposed to harmful chemicals, and the planet benefits from fewer toxic pesticides.
Any balance secrets?
I always struggle to find balance. As a working mom, I constantly wish I had more time to do all of the things I love. My physical health is a huge priority for me, so I like to schedule a morning workout to start every day off right. I also love taking my daughter to school and cherish that time together, so I try not to take any meetings before 10 AM. And then once I go home for the day, I do my best to unplug to be as present as possible with my family.
How have things changed with your partner since you became parents?
Since becoming parents, communication has become even more important for us. As parents, it’s really easy to get tired and overwhelmed and to take it out on your partner. To improve our communication, we have recently made a practice of touching base every night. We find a kind way to express one frustration and we list three things that we are grateful for. This has helped us both feel more appreciated.
What is your favorite thing to do as a family?
We love spending time at the beach together. Ryan loves to surf and Liora is picking up on that — she recently caught her first solo wave!
Where do you feel most inspired?
For The Little Market, I find a lot of inspiration from meeting with artisans, seeing their passion for their techniques and work, and hearing their stories about how they are able to support their families and become self-sufficient. For our product development, I get a lot of ideas from visiting local markets and picturing what I would purchase for my own home.
What does femininity mean to you?
Femininity is about the celebration of the characteristics that make each women special.
How do you manage stress?
Exercising! Research shows that when you exercise you get an endorphin boost, which makes you feel better and less stressed. It always works to clear my head.
What’s the most challenging part about being a mom?
For me, the most challenging part of being a mom is that it’s one of many roles that I have and love. I love being a friend, a CEO, a partner, a sister, daughter, granddaughter, etc. I find that I am usually able to take on multiple roles at once; I can be a a good sister and a good friend at the same time because I share friends with my siblings and we can all hang out together. However, I find that it’s very hard to be a good mom while doing something else. For example, it’s almost impossible for me to get work done while I have my kid(s) with me. I am not able to give my kids the attention they need and I can’t focus on my job either - in that moment, I’m not fulfilling either role well. This realization has forced me to schedule my days better so that I have designated time where my only role is to be the best mom possible.
What is the most challenging part of running your business?
Being mindful of cultivating and protecting an awesome company culture. In the span of just a couple years, we grew from a small team that often worked from my home, to now over 30 employees with a warehouse in Orange County, an office in LA, and a store in the Palisades. It’s a lot to manage and it’s important to me that through that growth, everyone loves coming to work every day and is excited about the projects we’re focused on.
What are you watching right now?
This Is Us and Tidying Up!
What does self-care mean and look like for you? What do you do for yourself?
Getting enough sleep (which is sometimes hard to pull off, but completely necessary). I put my kids to sleep around 7 p.m. and I do my best not to look at my computer after I put them down. When I do this, I fall asleep faster and earlier!
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
It is really valuable to get work experience in a related field. Learn as much as you can before you get started, so you can set your business up for success. When starting out, say yes to every opportunity that feels right and meet as many people as you can. In my experience, people want to help others and are willing to share wisdom and experiences if you just ask.
What advice do you have for new mothers?
Be patient — with yourself, your body, your baby, your partner, your family. So much changes when you become a mom that it can be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that every phase is temporary, so try to be patient. Also, you have to take care of yourself to be a good mom, so make it a priority to do something for yourself everyday — and try not to feel guilty about it! Doing something for yourself can be as simple as going to a workout class to having a meal with a friend.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
It’s ok to say “no.” We each have a limited amount of bandwidth, so it’s important to only say “yes” to things that are a priority for you. It’s important to remember that when you say “yes” to something, you’re effectively say “no” to something else. For example, when you say “yes” to going to a party that you don’t want to go to, that takes time away from being somewhere you want to be — like with your family or friends.
What are 4 things you can't live without?
Family and friends
The farmers market - I love fresh food!
Nature - I love hiking and going to the beach.
Purpose - I need to feel fulfilled by the work I do.