Last Friday morning, Chris and I really needed to find gifts for our moms for Mother’s Day. Chris’ mom’s birthday is actually May 8th, so he was in double need of shopping. On our way south to the Greenbelt, we decided to check out one of my favorite stores, Ten Thousand Villages, located on South Congress. With the weather warming up and our dog Lady in the car, I called ahead to ask if dogs were allowed inside. Their reply? “Of course dogs are allowed. Our policy is that if your dog is happy, then we are happy”. My kind of place!
Ten Thousand Villages stores are actually located throughout North America, selling handmade jewelry, home décor, and gifts, using the fair trade process. By shopping here, customers are supporting thousands of artisans from around the world. In fact, in 2009 Ethisphere Institute and Forbes Magazine voted Ten Thousand Villages one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies”.
And that’s no surprise, considering that the global fair trade movement skyrocketed thanks to the diligence and vision of Edna Ruth Byler, the founder of Ten Thousand Villages over sixty years ago. After a trip to Puerto Rico where she was exposed to severe poverty, she vowed to find a way to truly help these individuals. With her entrepreneurial spirit, Byler believed that creating a marketplace for the beautiful crafts of these local Puerto Ricans was the answer. Her dream was to build sustainable economic opportunity that would allow their products to thrive. She saw that these local artisans were incredibly talented, and if she could connect them to the market, then they could have a way to improve their life quality themselves. Beginning by selling jewelry out of the trunk of her car, Byler has worked nonstop to empower indigenous and local creativity around the world. She bridged two worlds, working to create a mutually beneficial relationship between them.
When Chris and I walked in, we were both awed by the all the sights and smells. Everything in the store has a story and speaks to you. From the children’s wooden toys to the hand-painted pottery, nothing in the store is anything but absolutely stunning. Glancing around, I couldn’t help but notice all the items I was placing in my (dream and imaginary) shopping cart. Let’s see, I’ll take that lavender soap and that set of silver champagne flutes. Oh yes, that purse made of sea shells and that hand-woven tapestry. And all the jewelry, please. It is never-ending. Their jewelry selection is bold, yet elegant, and their household decorations are divine. Like a kid at Toys “R” Us, we gawked and ooohed over everything.
With a full day ahead, we finally remembered our focus: mamas. I found a peaceful, white mirrored-mosaic picture frame for my mother made in Bali, while Chris found his mother beautiful earrings and a bright coin purse shaped like a kitten. We both bought our moms some soaps from their amazing bath collection.
I could spend endless hours and max out all kinds of cards at Ten Thousand Villages. It’s nice because you can never feel too guilty shopping there when you remember the concept behind it. They have an amazing online selection as well, including gift registry options. If you haven’t visited this store or have a reason to buy someone (or yourself!) a gift, I highly recommend checking it out. The gifts will become even more meaningful knowing that they’re supporting individuals who are finding ways to make a living through art against all odds and hardships. I love how when you make a purchase, the store prints out a history of the item, letting you know exactly where it was made and by what population. There is something quite special about Ten Thousand Villages… not many stores have the ability to connect the world together through shopping.
For a little more information, below is the official vision and mission statements of Ten Thousand Villages.
One day all artisans in the developing countries will earn a fair wage, be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live a life of quality.
Ten Thousand Villages provides vital, fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America. Ten Thousand Villages works with artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. This income helps pay for food, education, health care and housing. Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit program of Mennonite Central Committee.