Ten Thousand Villages
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|Headquarters||Akron, Pennsylvania, USA|
|Key people||Pam Raffensberger, CEO,
J. Alex Hartzler, Chair of the Board
|Products||Home Décor, Jewelry, Personal Accessories, Tabletop, Plant and Garden, Baskets, Personal Care, Global Treasures, Stationary, Toys and Games, Musical Instruments, Nativities and Festive Decor|
|Revenue||$27.7 million USD (2011)|
|Net income||$358,230 USD (2011)|
As one of the world’s largest and oldest fair trade organizations,(subscription required) Ten Thousand Villages has spent more than 65 years cultivating long-term buying relationships in which artisans receive a fair price for their work and consumers have access to unique gifts, accessories and home décor from around the world. Ten Thousand Villages is a founding member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) and a certified member of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF). Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit partner of Mennonite Central Committee.
The philosophy of Ten Thousand Villages was inspired by Mennonite Christianity. Mennonite values include compassion, service, mutual aid, and peacemaking.[broken citation] As such, the global fair trade movement officially began with the founding of Ten Thousand Villages more than 60 years ago through the work of Edna Ruth Byler, a pioneering businesswoman. She was moved to take action by the poverty she witnessed during a trip to Puerto Rico in 1946.
Byler began a grassroots campaign among her family and friends in the United States by selling handcrafted products out of the trunk of her car. She believed that she could provide sustainable economic opportunities for artisans in developing countries by creating a viable marketplace for their products. For the next 30 years, Byler worked to connect individual entrepreneurs in developing countries with market opportunities in North America.
In the 1970s the small project moved out of Byler's basement to become SELFHELP Crafts of the World, an official program of the Mennonite Central Committee. In 1996, SELFHELP became Ten Thousand Villages, a retail company that has grown to feature more than 100 stores in the United States and Canada. The new name was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi who said “India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages.” [broken citation]
By 2008, the company’s sales had surpassed $25.5 million, one third of which was paid to artisans directly. The other two thirds covered importing, storage, marketing, retail costs, and administration.[broken citation]
In 2012, Ten Thousand Villages and Mennonite Central Committee entered a partnership agreement. Ten Thousand Villages is no longer wholly owned by MCC.
Artisan partners 
Ten Thousand Villages encourages artisans to employ production methods that are environmentally sustainable and to use recycled and natural materials whenever possible. In 2007, Ten Thousand Villages redesigned stores to minimize environmental impact in order to meet the "triple bottom line" of economic, environmental and social sustainability.
Ten Thousand Villages establishes long-term trade relationships with groups that work with craftspeople who are most in need of work and who produce crafts that will likely be able to get sold in North America.(subscription required) Most of these groups are found in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. The company often selects artisan partners that provide training and employment to those who have virtually no chance of securing employment in the mainstream labor market. Many of these artisans are disadvantaged because of disability, gender or ethnicity.
Ten Thousand Villages also purchases from export businesses that market handicraft products on behalf of thousands of artisans who lack access to markets. These groups provide tools and sustainable sources of income for small artisan workshops to develop their infrastructure and build business capacity. Export businesses enable artisans to build their local communities and preserve culture through the proliferation of traditional crafts.
Once a partnership has been established between Ten Thousand Villages and an artisan group, a “fair” price must be set for the artisan group’s work. These prices are determined by a combination of what the artisan believes will be fair and the demand within the foreign market. Artisans are paid fifty percent of the total up front in order to help them pay for the raw materials used in their products. The other fifty percent is paid once the products are complete. This means that the artisans are paid in full before their products are sold in North America, (even if they never get sold). Ten Thousand Villages’ marketing director Doug Dirks estimated that market prices abroad are up to five times what is paid to the artisan. He said that his company is willing to take that risk because they feel that it is important to what they do. Most of the artisans in these countries cannot obtain business loans from their local banks.(subscription required)[broken citation]
Ten Thousand Villages designers and buyers collaborate with artisans to combine the traditional skills of the artisans with popular colors and styles in the North American markets. The company also encourages artisans to use sustainable practices. For example, artisans are advised to use natural or recycled materials in their products.[broken citation]
As an importer, wholesaler and retailer, Ten Thousand Villages is a successful non-profit enterprise. The Ten Thousand Villages headquarters is currently located in Akron, Pennsylvania.[broken citation] The company uses sales profits to increase purchases from artisan partners and to expand its domestic distribution channels. In 2006-2007 fiscal year, the company increased purchases from artisans by more than one million dollars.
Ten Thousand Villages markets products through multiple sales channels, from its retail network of more than 80 stores nationwide to an e-commerce website. The company also works as a wholesaler to supply several hundred retailers nationwide. Additionally, local groups at churches, colleges and community centers around the country host festival sales, the company’s oldest distribution channel.
Individual stores are staffed by volunteers ensuring that administrative costs are kept at a bare minimum. However, in recent years Ten Thousand Villages has been operating more like a business. In order to improve management quality, the stores now have full-time managers who are paid. This came into effect under the observation that volunteers are more effective workers when they have consistent and focused supervision.(subscription required) In doing so, Ten Thousand Villages is participating in a larger trend among non-profit organizations to employ private sector business strategies as a means to more effectively raise funds.[broken citation]
There are currently 51 stores in Canada alone with the most recent being located in Cobourg, Ontario.
Ten Thousand Villages offers a wide variety of unique, handmade home décor, and gifts from around the world, including baskets, sculptures, jewelry, instruments, toys, tablewares, planters, linens, stationery, various holiday items and other accessories. Most Ten Thousand Villages stores also sell fair trade food items such as chocolate, tea, rice, dried fruit and coffee.
In 2006, Make Trade Fair was released, a compilation CD to raise awareness and funds for Ten Thousand Villages.
In 2005, Ten Thousand Villages released "The Power of Trading Fairly," a DVD highlighting artisan partners from Bangladesh, Guatemala and Kenya, and how their lives have been improved by fair trade.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Ten Thousand Villages has had life-altering effects on its artisan partners. Its fair trade practices directly support tens of thousands of artisans around the world.[broken citation] In 2009 the company conducted their “One Reason Why” campaign which showcased some of these anecdotal stories. The campaign revolved around printed and digital materials (such as bookmarks and DVDs) that presented artisans’ “one reason why” fair trade had made a difference in their lives.[broken citation] Also, some of the generally small artisan groups or families have transformed into full fledged businesses that employ hundreds to thousands of people.[broken citation] However, despite this evidence, little research has been conducted to determine the quantitative impact of Ten Thousand Villages and its worldwide fair trade partnerships.[broken citation]
- Sarika, Dani. "Nontraditional Strategies." Chain Store Age, 2005. retrieved from EBSCOhost Database: http://ehis.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=e9393b0b-316d-46ef-9162-b79cc741635b%40sessionmgr110&vid=1&hid=109&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=buh&AN=18443435
- Wolfer, Terry and del Pila, Katrina. "Ten Thousand Villages: Partnering with Artisans to Overcome Poverty." Social Work & Christianity, 2008. retrieved from EBSCOhost Database: http://ehis.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=36cfcf5b-dc0b-4763-a8a5-c69606796bae%40sessionmgr111&vid=2&hid=109
- Dato-on, Mary Conway, Joyce, Marry and Manolis, Chris. "Creating Effective Customer Relationships in Not-for-profit Retailing: the Ten Thousand Villages example," International Journal of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing, 2006. retrieved from EBSCOhost Database: http://ehis.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=484fa68f-d70d-4278-bfd7-420dc2c3088f%40sessionmgr113&vid=6&hid=20
- Kitchen, Jane. "Ten Thousand Villages" Gifts & Decorative Accessories, 2009. retrieved from EBSCOhost Database: http://ehis.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=30c782e3-d2f8-454b-adfc-3fede1d12b1d%40sessionmgr110&vid=2&hid=109
- Official US site.
- Official Canadian site.
- Ten Thousand Villages at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online