“We work directly with artisans in developing countries to meet ethical standards ….” — Stephanie Wilson
Ten Thousand Villages, stocked with a full spectrum of fair trade products, guarantees that all the artisans they work with are compensated fairly for every item they produce.
“As we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, our profits go to benefit our artisans through support of their work,” said Stephanie Wilson, who started her own journey with the national organization while living in Charlottesville. “We pay all of our artisans before their products even reach our store, which means profit from sales go towards buying more product, shipping and importation, which means costs we absorb instead of passing on to the producers, as well as general operational costs.”
While there are several store locations across the country, the Alexandria shop alone sells products from more than 130 artisan groups representing 38 countries.
Ten Thousand Villages may seem like an eccentric gift shop. Inside are home décor, coffee, jewelry, and all kinds of other personal accessories and trinkets hand made by artisans from all over the world who were paid properly for their work.
In an ideal world, artisans would always be paid fairly for their output, the reality is that international worker compensation standards are not so fair. “The Ten Thousand Villages’ mission is to ‘create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships,” said Kate McMahon, retail sales manager for the National Ten Thousand Villages Association. “According to the World Fair Trade organization, Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. As a branded Ten Thousand Villages store, we agree to purchase the majority of what the store sells directly from Ten Thousand Villages National. Other vendors are sources through the Fair Trade Federation or the World Fair Trade Organization to be sure they are practicing fair trade principles.”
This mission is one that both McMahon and Wilson felt personally drawn to upon learning more about Fair Trade in the earlier 2000s.
“When I was brought on as store manager in Alexandria this June, I was immediately excited to continue to grow with an organization I have always held dear to my heart, and I am honored to lead the wonderful team in Alexandria,” Wilson said. “Fair trade is a system of trading partnerships based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system.”
Members of the Ten Thousand Villages organization see firsthand all the benefits that at-home fair trade reaps for people worldwide.
“We work directly with artisans in developing countries to meet ethical standards such as a fair price, long term stability, good working conditions, and environmentally friendly practices,” Wilson said. “We also work to empower women and other groups facing disadvantages. Factors tied into the decision-making process include the global economic position of the country, the disparity of income, market access, product marketability, and sustainability of a buying relationship.”
The Old Town store was instrumental in establishing Alexandria as an official Fair Trade Town back in 2014.
“The Fair Trade Town designation grew out of a grassroots movement to empower fair trade advocates to educate their communities and build consumer citizenship,” McMahon said. “The resolution passed as a way to bring light to our purchasing power and to have the city work towards purchasing fair trade where available.”
To achieve Fair Trade Town status, the City Council had to pass a resolution, and then Fair Trade USA – the country’s fair trade certification body – had to officially recognize Alexandria as a town committed to fair trade and to promoting qualified goods to its population.
“We have been fortunate enough to gain the support of local neighborhoods and have become a go-to shopping destination for many loyal residents,” Wilson said. “While it is still not completely mainstream, people are more familiar with Fair Trade than they were 20 years ago. For one thing, there are now more options and availability of Fair Trade products. People in general are also more aware of how things they purchase are sourced and the ethical implications of their production.”
So, for the many people still stumped over what to buy those friends and family members who “just seem to have everything,” Ten Thousand Villages has a solution.
“Knowing the meaning behind a fair trade gift, that the person who made the gift has safe working conditions, was paid fairly, is able to earn their own living gives me all the reasons in the world to be sure every gift is fair trade,” McMahon said.
“Giving fair trade means that you’re giving more than just a product,” Wilson. “You’re sending children to school. You’re putting food on the table. You’re laying the groundwork for sustainable change. We provide gift enclosure cards so you can share the difference your purchase has made with the recipient of that gift.”
The first gift suggestions that came to both women’s minds happen to have aesthetic benefits for those receiving them, too.
“We have a lot of products that are made from recycled saris from Bangladesh,” she said. “They are all wildly popular and also a beautiful story. Recycled saris, patched with love, are repurposed into Sacred Sari Throws by women who have left the Red Light District. The artisans are women who have broken away from the sex trade and now make their living by making soap and handicrafts.”
For more information on Ten Thousand Villages,see www.tenthousandvillages.com/Alexandria.