Introducing Ten Thousand Villages: Pioneers of Fair Trade
All images are provided by Ten Thousand Villages.
Finding ethical, fair trade gifts can be tricky. Add to that the difficulty of shopping for the travelers in your life, ones who care about the planet and her people, and you’ve got a real challenge on your hands. But we’re about to make ethical holiday shopping easy on you. Real easy.
Have you ever heard of Ten Thousand Villages? It’s a global maker-to-market movement that strives to support social change while breaking the cycle of poverty in developing nations.
Here’s a deep, dark secret. Loads of online and bricks-n-mortar stores claim to source products ethically and support fair trade, but the truth is, there are a lot of companies that cash in on our good-hearted nature, while coming up short on their promises. Some even work with sweat shops. Others don’t pay workers until the item is sold in our country.
We’re not gonna name names, but some of these companies are big. Some are brands you know, chain stores even, which claim to support artisans and source their products ethically. Let me tell you, there is a lot of gray area. What some consider ethical, others consider opportunistic.
As a shopper, it can be hard to tell who’s living up to ethical, fair trade values and who isn’t.
Ten Thousand Villages is different. They have beautiful gifts for the travelers in your life, and the people who love to dream about travel…and we’ll get to our top recommendations in a future post. But before we do, let’s talk about how they are pioneers of fair trade, and how they’re putting people and our planet first.
To learn about what makes Ten Thousand Villages special, we spoke with Courtney Kubly, Store Manager and Executive Director for Ten Thousand Villages US, in Granger, Indiana. “Ten Thousand Villages was started in 1946 by a woman doing mission work in developing countries,” she explains. “A lot of people don’t know we have been around that long. We were the pioneers of fair trade before it was called fair trade.”
As travelers, we see the beautiful work of artisans around the world, often displayed in gift shops or at markets in the places we visit. The founder of Ten Thousand Villages saw these beautiful textiles and needlework and recognized the need to have those items in the U.S.
“It’s not built out of a pity mission,” says Kubly. “It was, ‘Holy cow! These women are producing outstanding textiles. People in the U.S. need to see the work they’re doing.'”
There’s a misconception, Kubly says, that the movement was borne out of desire to help “poor people,” but the truth is very different. “Any of the artisans I’ve ever met…no one wants a handout. They want to deliver a superior product to our customers in the U.S.,” she explains. “They are very astute and skilled artisans and business people and they just want the playing field to be equal for them to receive fair treatment for what they make.”
Ten Thousand Villages lives by a set of self-imposed high ethical standards.
These are the five pillars of their fair trade business.
The artisans and Ten Thousand Villages agree on a fair price that covers the cost of labor and materials, AND enables the artisan to receive fair pay for their work.
Cash advances and prompt final payment.
Ten Thousand Villages gives their artisans a 50% payment up front and the other 50% before the item leaves their country. That’s not typical for retail these days. In fact, many stores will buy items on credit and the vendor doesn’t receive payment until their product is sold. Of note is that when Ten Thousand Villages has a sale, it does not affect the price paid to the artisan. These factors make Ten Thousand Villages very different from other stores that claim to be fair trade.
Ten Thousand Villages is looking to support long-term change, so they want to build long-term relationships with their artisan partners. “The average relationship is 20 years. We are making a commitment to work with artisan groups for a span of time so we are effecting change within a family, a community, and a town,” Kubly explains. Many other retail organizations have no obligation to the artisans, no matter how much the artisans invest in infrastructure to create a product for those retail stores. The result: artisans can be left with a huge burden if the retail store backs out.
Ten Thousand Villages designers and buyers work with the artisans and discuss trends in the U.S., to help artisans bring a product to market that appeals to buyers. That may mean finding a practical way to share the skills and craftsmanship of the artisans with shoppers.
Ten Thousand Villages strives to subscribe to sustainable practices and use sustainable products whenever possible. One example is handmade paper made from elephant poop: poop paper. It comes in notebooks or note cubes, and is a huge hit as a teacher gift. Behind that product is a quest to save elephants from being slaughtered. As they now produce something that can be sold to support families, the life of the elephants now has value and people are less likely to kill them.
If you’ve traveled to developing nations, you may have noticed the lack of solutions for handling trash. With products made from recycled newspaper and recycled candy wrappers, trash suddenly turns into treasure.
It’s also important to note that the organization is largely supported by volunteers in their bricks-n-mortar locations in the U.S.
Now you know what makes Ten Thousand Villages so different in the fair trade retail space. In our next post, we’ll talk about specific products that are sure to rank among the best holiday gifts for travelers. Stay tuned!
And if you just can’t wait for our guide, start shopping on the Ten Thousand Villages website right now.
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Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
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