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Hannah Skvarla & Liesl Gerntholtz
The Little Market

In this episode of Conquer The Noise, Jonathan speaks with Hannah Skvarla, co-founder of The Little Market, and Liesl Gerntholtz, the Chief Program Officer. The Little Market works with global artisans to sell handmade and fair-trade products. It empowers female artisans by providing living wages and dignified work to women worldwide by extending their products’ distribution. Established in 2013 as an online marketplace, the nonprofit has grown to include a brick-and-mortar store in California. In just 7 years, the nonprofit has helped create 1 million hours of dignified work for their suppliers.

The nonprofit tries to reach out to most marginalized groups and work with them to bring their products to market. Supporting sustainable income opportunities is at its core, and they believe giving women money directly through appropriate product valuation is where real empowerment comes. In addition, the team aims to position and market all products to different marketplaces and create an ongoing relationship with their artisans.

Hannah Skvarla shares how she met Liesl Gerntholtz at FIDAM and bonded over their shared passion for community and giving back. She then talks about the trip that helped her understand women’s quests for opportunities to work. She learned about the magnitude of existing artisan products and the lack of scalable ways to reach a marketplace. All these eventually led to creating an online marketplace to connect people with ethically made products worldwide.

“A living wage is the ability of families to pay for essentials – school, food, rent payment, and some discretionary income. Unfortunately, many jobs don’t allow for these, which mandates people to work longer hours”, explains Hannah.

The Little Market addresses this by developing living wage guidance for all countries they exist in. They arrive at this by thoroughly analyzing the conditions in which the products are being made and other crucial factors. Hannah states that the real value is in empowering women economically, i.e., enabling them to earn money and decide how to spend it in a safe environment. This is among the reasons for them to focus on dignified work as a measurement.

Hannah also reveals how despite COVID, 2020 was their best year to date. She explains how the shopping patterns have changed and how people are more conscious about supporting small businesses. She also describes how the nonprofit’s flexible model has been helping them immensely during these uncertain times.

The founder also highlights on multiple occasions how this entire initiative isn’t about “helping people” but genuinely empowering them. The team works hard to create a partnership. They do not see themselves as service providers but enablers who work closely with artisans to educate them on the best practices while preserving traditional techniques. This entire process is built on relationships and transparency at all levels and is mutually beneficial.

Growth for The Little Market is diversifying its portfolio and looking for as many things to sell as possible. This leads to uncovering the challenge Brick-and-mortar throws, especially with shipping costs and the scale of orders making it so hard to ship to many locations. There is also an emphasis on how being a nonprofit has helped them receive the support of some incredible activists, tastemakers, change-makers & celebrities.

Hannah also highlights how marketing is quite challenging given the amount of information to get across and expresses how getting better at storytelling is an important goal for the nonprofit. She also covers the difficulties of navigating through the concept of greenwashing. Hannah stresses that as long as the big brands use terms without monitoring how they’re being used, it will be hard for a consumer to understand what fair trade is.

Lastly, Hannah shares her views on pursuing dreams. She mentions how different experiences can teach people something they might not even realize for the next phase of their career by narrating instances from her own experiences.

Liesl mentions how it’s about working in places that connect with one’s values. She talks about how a lot of her satisfaction has come from feeling like the good she’s doing out in the world is replicated by doing it for the team she works with. She then ties it back to the nonprofit’s value to treat all staff with dignity and how it is the thread that connects everything. She finds learning about things that are completely outside of her comfort zone and wheelhouse very stimulating. The conversation ends with her stating how learning in one’s job and getting out of their comfort zone is excellent.