With Palisades Village — a new outdoor retail development that opened this past weekend in the Pacific Palisades — developer Caruso gave some of the most well-known figures in Los Angeles fashion opportunities to open their first brick-and-mortar stores. Among the familiar names I saw as I walked through the space a day before it opened were Jennifer Meyer and Rachel Zoe, but I was there to see another former reality TV star-turned-entrepreneur: Lauren Conrad, and her friend Hannah Skvarla, with whom she co-founded The Little Market.
One of Conrad's many post- "The Hills" business ventures, The Little Market is a nonprofit that sells handmade, fair-trade items (mostly gift-y things and home goods) ethically sourced from artisans from all over the world. The co-founders don't take a salary from its sales and instead invest everything back into the business and their artisans.
Given the business model, Conrad says she was a little hesitant to get into the brick-and-mortar retail game. "From day one Hannah wanted a storefront; I have experience in retail, so I was just a 'bah, humbug' about it," she says. "We've been around for five years and we've slowly grown and when you're a nonprofit you just have to make responsible choices."
As much as brick-and-mortar retail might be struggling right now, The Little Market is likely safe in the hands of Rick Caruso, the billionaire behind some of the most profitable shopping developments in the country like The Grove, The Americana in Glendale and The Commons at Calabasas. Palisades Village is intended to serve inhabitants of the well-to-do Santa Monica- and Malibu-adjacent enclave. The literal hordes of wealthy, just-let-out-of-school teenagers I saw while getting coffee after my interview will probably be able to keep the place afloat on their own.
"It was something that we always wanted to do because with handmade items it's so different to see them in photos," explains Skvarla of why she wanted to open a store. "We're really excited for customers to be able to walk in, see everything and appreciate the variations. Every single glass is hand-blown, hand-etched, each size is different, each flower pattern's different. These items aren't made with molds or stencils."
When I entered the small space, I was struck by how cohesively everything was merchandised: On one side, most products were pink-hued, while on the other, items were primarily blue. In the middle was a beautifully set dining table (with items available to purchase) and a table of perfectly-arranged gift boxes. I was not surprised that merchandising was Conrad's responsibility (she "planned out every single shelf" according to Skvarla) since it essentially looked like her impossibly perfect Instagram feed come to life; but I didn't understand how handmade items from artisans all over the world could look so uniform and subdued in color.
Therein lies the magic of The Little Market; to some extent, the co-founders dictate the aesthetic of the pieces being made for them. "Our experience as far as product is different with every group; with some of them we're like, 'Everything in here is stunning; we'll take everything,' and some of them we'll say, 'The technique you're using, the textile you're creating is so beautiful, what is the most salable way to produce them?' And we work and collaborate with them," explains Conrad.
Skvarla gives the example of having artisans produce a series of dishes and baskets in blush and white (a color combo used for a number of items, all merchandised together at the front of the store). "We try to maintain their culture and their traditions and still have those deigns reflected, but figure out how to make it something a customer in the U.S. is more likely to buy," she says. For today's aesthetically-minded, Instagram-conscious consumer, that's probably a smart move, even if it might result in something that looks slightly watered down or — I'll say it — basic.
Conrad and Skvarla seem to have their business figured out pretty well. The friends say their roles are clearly defined and don't overlap. "I think it's really important to establish expectations at the very beginning, so expectations as far as roles and time and all of that," says Skvarla of figuring out how to work with a friend. "It's also really important who has a complimentary skillset and, of course, mutual respect."
"We have such an amazing team; it's never felt like real work and it's so much fun," adds Conrad. Skvarla says the two of them will be in the store "a lot" now that it's open and do plan to open more stores; they've already been approached by two other properties.
As for the question on everyone's mind — whether Conrad will ever do reality TV again, especially with a "The Hills" reboot in the works — we didn't get an answer (this topic was off limits). But as we learned from her former TV rival on "Very Cavallari," opening a store...doesn't necessarily make for great television anyway. And even if TV is what got Conrad in the public eye, her business skills and aesthetic vision might be enough to keep her there.