Fair trade is the simple philosophy that everyone should be fairly compensated for their work. In a world where major corporations often take advantage of workers in developing countries, one company has been pioneering the fair trade movement since the 1940s.
History of Ten Thousand Villages
When I visited Ten Thousand Villages in Redondo Beach I learned that this fair trade nonprofit store began in my home state of Pennsylvania! In fact, the first shop opened in Akron, PA, just an hour away from my hometown. I wondered how I had never heard of it. Then I realized the concept of fair trade was never really on my radar growing up. This probably applies to many other people as well. Until recently, fair trade was not at the forefront of discussion. Ten Thousand Villages is a guiding light in the space and it all began with one woman, Edna Ruth Byler.
Byler traveled to Puerto Rico in 1946 where she met women creating beautiful needlework. She realized that despite their work, these women were struggling to support themselves and their families. This sparked an idea. She purchased their work at a fair price and then sold it to friends and neighbors back in the states. Today, Byler’s little self-run shop is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization.
Ten Thousand Villages provides sustainable income to over 20,000 craftspeople in more than 30 developing countries. Additionally, over fifty percent of their artisan partners are women. They may have expanded immensely, but their vision remains the same. ‘One day all artisans in developing countries will be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live a life of quality.’
How the Store Operates
Artisans mutually agree upon prices for their creations and receive advance payments. This practice ensures that artisans can afford the tools they need to establish and grow a sustainable business. Ten Thousand Villages keeps their overhead costs low is by partnering with dedicated volunteers to run their stores. I spoke to Tasha Cunningham, a volunteer at the Redondo Beach location. To her, fair trade means giving back to the world and being a global citizen.
“I work a very busy life in corporate America and the ability to stay grounded in the bigger things that matter is a high value for me. I believe that there are millions of people in the world that have something to give back.” Cunningham explains.
She’s right. I gave back by simply purchasing a birthday gift for my friend. When I walked into the Redondo beach location my eyes went wide. Gorgeous and unique crafts line the walls from floor to ceiling. I easily spent over an hour circling the store many times over and discovering new gems each time. I finally settled on a labradorite stone necklace meant to inspire courage. My friend loved the special gift and I felt good knowing that my purchase went to a good cause. This particular necklace supported artisans in Northern India and contributed to educational programs for women and children.
The best part is that all of their one-of-a-kind goods are reasonably priced. There is a common misconception that shopping fair trade will break the bank. However, at Ten Thousand Villages you can find quality handmade items for under $20. Of course, you can always go for their higher-end products too. There is truly something for everyone here.
Ethics in Everything
In addition to their committment to pay artisans a fair wage, they also follow an ethical business model every step of the way. From building long-term partnerships with artisan groups and ensuring safe working conditions to design collaboration with an emphasis on environmentally sustainable practices, Ten Thousand Villages leaves no stone unturned in their mission to empower people in developing countries to thrive.
As I chowed down on some fair trade chocolate, (calories don’t count if they are for a good cause right?) Cunningham left me with one last note. “The ability to come here and volunteer, knowing that the people who made each and every item in the store were paid a decent wage and we probably know who they are – it’s my little bit of ending world poverty in developing nations.”
If you are interested in volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages Redondo Beach, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to check out Tenthousandvillages.com to find a store near you or shop online all your ethically sourced goodies!