Partner Spotlight: Ten Thousand Villages

Zoe Sheppard July 22, 2019

Ten Thousand Villages is a strong ally in the Fair Trade movement and, with thoughtful organizing, can be a game-changer in the progress of a Fair Trade Town campaign.

When people think of Fair Trade items, they often think of coffee, tea and chocolate; the three classics. However, there are also plenty of opportunities to shop for Fair Trade accessories, clothes, home decor and more. In fact, Fair Trade started not with coffee or tea, but with artisan goods.

In the 1950s, following a trip to Puerto Rico, a woman named Edna Ruth Byler began selling handmade textiles out of the trunk of her car. Byler was something of a woman’s rights activist, and she told the stories of the women makers and artisans as she sold their pieces throughout Pennsylvania. Byler’s shop, Overseas Needlework and Crafts, eventually grew into Ten Thousand Villages, today a Fair Trade Federation member with a national network of shops selling artisan-made goods. Shopping at Ten Thousand Villages is a great way to support the Fair Trade movement, as each purchase makes a difference in the lives of artisans around the world.

There are Ten Thousand Villages locations across the United States, stretching from Philadelphia, PA all the way to Pasadena, CA. With the natural alignment of Ten Thousand Villages and Fair Trade Campaigns, there are even Fair Trade Town campaigns working in collaboration with, or even housed within, local Ten Thousand Villages stores. Some examples include Fair Trade Philadelphia, Fair Trade State College and Fair Trade Media – all Fair Trade Town campaigns in Pennsylvania, where Ten Thousand Villages first started.

Philadelphia, PA

Photo Credit: Kyle Arnold / Fair Trade Philadelphia

The Fair Trade Town campaign in Philadelphia, PA, which declared in 2015, is a great example of how to build a strong partnership with Ten Thousand Villages in order to reach a wider audience. Since their declaration, Fair Trade Philadelphia has hosted several events in conjunction with their local store, including the World Fair Trade Coffee Break Challenge in 2016 and a Fair Trade fashion event in 2019.

The World Fair Trade Coffee Break Challenge, organized by Fair Trade International, encourages people to choose Fair Trade coffee. The impact of this challenge is huge, making a difference for coffee farmers worldwide. By hosting this event with Ten Thousand Villages, the Fair Trade Philadelphia team was able to connect with new audiences – there may be people that enjoy shopping at Ten Thousand Villages, but are not necessarily involved with Fair Trade beyond their shopping choices. This event heightened their awareness and offered a fun opportunity to be more involved with the movement.

In April 2019, the Fair Trade Philadelphia team hosted a fashion event called “Who Made My Clothes?” At this event, Fair Trade Philadelphia and Ten Thousand Villages partnered with Mata Traders, a Fair Trade clothing company, to raise awareness about how fast fashion items are made, and which ethical alternatives are available. This event took place during Fashion Revolution Week, a global week of fashion awareness and a time to spark conversation about who made our clothes and how. This event was a great opportunity to have important dialogue regarding the fashion industry while perusing ethical options from Mata Traders and Ten Thousand Villages.

State College, PA

Photo Credit: Ten Thousand Villages State College

Another great example of partnership between Fair Trade Town campaigns and Ten Thousand Villages can be seen just down the road in State College, PA. State College was also declared a Fair Trade Town in 2015, and the local Ten Thousand Villages recently took over the campaign.

The focus for the team at Ten Thousand Villages has been to spread awareness that State College is a Fair Trade Town. Jenn, a Ten Thousand Villages volunteer, has reached out to local congregations, elementary schools and community organizations to educate the community on the movement and its presence. Jenn even has presentations planned at local public libraries in order to share with the community the various ways one can participate in the Fair Trade movement in State College.

Jenn’s connection to Ten Thousand Villages has been a valuable resource as she works to raise awareness in State College. Rather than having to point community members in different directions as to where they can purchase Fair Trade products, they can be directed to their local Ten Thousand Villages. Accessibility is huge when it comes to gaining support from those that are not familiar with the movement, and the partnership between Fair Trade Towns and Ten Thousand Villages is making the choice to support Fair Trade much easier for community members.

Media, PA

Yet another Fair Trade Town that works in partnership with Ten Thousand Villages can be found in Media, PA. Media was actually the first Fair Trade Town in the U.S., earning their designation in 2006. Since then, their impact in Media has continued to grow as they are heavily involved with local schools, congregations, farmers markets and, of course, Ten Thousand Villages.

When you peruse Media’s Fair Trade Town website, they have plenty of options of where to shop for Fair Trade products in the community, from grocery stores to cafes and ice cream shops. Ten Thousand Villages stands out in this section as one of the few locations that offers Fair Trade crafts and clothing as well. This is great for community members who are looking to shop Fair Trade beyond coffee, tea and chocolate (items which Ten Thousand Villages also sells, alongside artisan goods).

Get Involved

Ten Thousand Villages is a strong ally in the Fair Trade movement and, with thoughtful organizing, can be a game-changer in the progress of a Fair Trade Town campaign. Furthermore, Ten Thousand Villages is just one example of the many Fair Trade retailers across the country that can serve as a strong ally in local efforts. If you’re looking for a new partner in your community, the Fair Trade Federation store and café list is a great place to start.

Looking for more ways to get involved? Find a Ten Thousand Villages location near you to shop artisan goods or explore volunteer opportunities. If you’re interested in getting involved with Fair Trade Towns, search our campaign map to see if there are any Town campaigns near you, or learn more about how to launch a new campaign in your town!

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Zoe Sheppard,