Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages is an organization deeply connected with religious faith. It is a non-profit trade network managed by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the service, relief, and development agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in North America. The network engages artisans in impoverished countries in fair trade relationships with consumers in North America, Europe, and Japan. Ten Thousand Villages, as a concept, was born in 1946. A Mennonite Central Committee worker named Edna Ruth Byler visited Puerto Rico, where MCC volunteers were teaching sewing classes. She was impressed by the talent of the Puerto Ricans, who were living in poverty, and took some of their crafts home to Akron, Pennsylvania. She believed that if these artisans had a place to sell their crafts, at a fair price, their lives could be greatly improved by the income generated. The artisan crafts were immensely popular, and Byler quickly added more items to her inventory: cross-stitch from war-torn Palestine and hand-carved woodenware from Haiti. For almost thirty years she stocked inventory in her basement and sold the items out of the trunk of her car. In the early 1970s, the Mennonite Central Committee adopted the program under the name SELFHELP Crafts of the World. The name was changed in 1996 to Ten Thousand Villages, inspired by the Mahatma Gandhi quote, “… India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages… we have hardly ever paused to inquire if these folks get sufficient to eat and clothe themselves with.” Fair trade is one of the network’s charter principles, and it is a member of the Fair Trade Federation and the International Fair Trade Association. Today it is one of the oldest and largest fair trade networks in the world, with over seventy stores and one hundred outlets across North America. Between April, 2005 and March, 2006, Ten Thousand Villages sold over twenty million dollars worth of fair trade products, representing more than sixty thousand artisans.

Ten Thousand Villages in Richmond was founded as an initiative of congregants at First Mennonite Church, a few of whom still sit on its board today. The store originally opened under the name SELFHELP Crafts of the World, and changed its name at the same time its parent organization made the change. The store was located at 2802 West Cary Street, but in June of 2001 the store successfully undertook a one-half mile move to the heart of Carytown. The store’s new location at 3201 West Cary Street benefits from increased foot traffic and participation in periodic Carytown events, both of which lend their products wide exposure. The bulk of the store’s staff is made up of volunteers. Volunteers need not be Mennonites, they must only be at least 16 years old and willing to donate at least two four-hour shifts each month.

In addition to selling goods at their shop in Carytown, Ten Thousand Villages sell goods in other venues such as the First Mennonite Church craft sales event and the popular Annual Jazz Festival held in Richmond in 2005. Beyone providing income for the third-world artisans whose products they sell, Ten Thousand Villages also donates a portion of its proceeds to local community organizations, including the Richmond Peace Education Center. Workers at Ten Thousand Villages are also available to give presentations on the topics of fair trade, globalization, and conscientious consumerism. There is no charge for this service, although donations are accepted. Visitors to the store’s website can view a sample of products available, and learn about the conditions and lifestyle of the artisans in the many countries whose products are featured.

Ten Thousand Villages
3201 West Cary Street
Richmond, VA

Volunteer staff of Ten Thousand Villages

Profile prepared by Emily Stevenson
June, 2006