Vol. LXI, No. 33
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
WORLDWIDE VILLAGE: "We have such a range of items: textiles from India, carved wood from Africa, gourds from Latin America, jewelry from Niger, musical instruments from Africa, and lots of things for kids." Members of the staff and volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages are shown by the "Hidden Meadow" collection, featuring a variety of products from India, Indonesia, The West Bank, Peru, Honduras, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Left to right are: Sara Katz, manager Rowena Gross, Carl Esser, and Randy Harms.
It's all about connecting. Connecting and sharing with people across the world. Artisans who fashion quality items receive fair compensation for their work, and customers in North America are the beneficiaries of the craftspeople's skill and talent.
It is the concept behind the fair trade program, and it grows stronger all the time, says Rowena Gross, manager of Ten Thousand Villages retail shop and a fair trade organization.
"Fair trade is becoming a real movement," she points out. "People are becoming conscientious buyers. It's such a simple concept. We can be part of something positive: getting items from those with the time and ability to make them and providing them to those with the means to buy them. We can help people in poverty to become self-sufficient and have better lives."
Ms. Gross, who has been part of the Ten Thousand Villages team since 2001, explains that the program began 61 years ago with the vision of Edna Ruth Byler. A volunteer for Mennonite Central Committee, she visited a sewing class in Puerto Rico in 1946. What she found was a group of women with extraordinary hand talent sewing beautiful textiles.
Ms. Byler was struck by the overwhelming poverty around her, and began to formulate an idea for a social change model which could contribute to the alleviation of poverty. She believed she could provide substantial economic opportunities for skilled artisans in developing countries by creating a viable marketplace for the products in North America. She began a grass roots campaign among her family and friends in the U.S. by selling handcrafted products out of the trunk of her car and in thrift shops in connection with the Mennonite Church. She also educated her community in central Pennsylvania about the lives of artisans around the world.
Over the next 30 years, she worked to connect individual entrepreneurs in developing countries with market opportunities in North America. Ms. Byler's contribution ignited a global movement to eradicate poverty through market-based solutions. Ten Thousand Villages is a founding member of the International Trade Association and a long-standing member of the Fair Trade Federation.
Today, Ten Thousand Villages has more than 100 retail outlets in the U.S. and Canada, relationships with more than 100 artisan groups in more than 30 countries in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
"We purchase a product at a fair price, give the artisans 50 percent up front, so they can cover costs, workers, and supplies," explains Ms. Gross. "Some are small family workshops; some are large work creation projects or cooperatives. We establish long-standing relationships with the artisans and visit them, getting to know the nuances of their cultures and learning about their traditions. We can share their stories with our customers."
Ten Thousand Villages opened in the Princeton Shopping Center in 1999, and has flourished. Recently renovated, it offers more space and a very attractive setting in which to display the merchandise. Light is now a major focus, contributing to the feeling of additional space.
"We renovated because we needed to expand," says Ms. Gross, "Everyone loves the new look. It's so much lighter now and roomier. We have new fixtures, new displays and new collections."
The many and varied gift items and home decor specialties are unique and intriguing. Handcrafted by people all over the world, the items are an expression of their culture and traditions.
Displays at the shop are arranged largely according to color, with varying shades of greens, blues, and reds catching the eye. Blended within a display could be a tablecloth from India, ceramic tray from Indonesia, carved wood from the West Bank, ceramic vase from Peru, notepaper from Bangladesh, and candles from Honduras.
"The quality of the craftsmanship has really improved over the years," notes Ms. Gross. "It's a very fine product today. For example there is a gorgeous quilt from India with fabulous colors, wonderful hanging picture frames and mirrors made of pressed leaves from Indonesia. We have trivets and placemats made of recycled newspaper from the Philippines and also windchimes made of recycled antennas from there."
Alpaca and acrylic throws from Nepal, oyster shell wall hangings from the Philippines, block-printed tablecloths from India, blue and white pottery from Vietnam, and "Singing Bowls" from Nepal are favorites in the store. "The Singing Bowl is available in three sizes," says Ms. Gross. "It offers a lovely serene sound that lingers in the air."
Jewelry, musical instruments, and children's toys are in separate collections and are also big sellers. "People come to see the new jewelry collection as soon as it comes in, six times a year," reports Ms. Gross. "There is some silver, but also lots of glass and beads, and it's anywhere from $6 to $165. A little beaded ring is $4. Generally, our prices are anywhere from $4 up to $300 for a special quilt with all prices in-between and a lot in the $30 range."
Musical instruments, including a super selection of drums in all sizes, have always been favorites, and the children's toys include fabulous brightly-colored kites from Indonesia and wonderful pull toys with a little boy riding a bike from Africa.
Colorful scarves, bags, woven baskets, trays, nativities, decorative pears, apples and animals made of onyx (a type of marble) from Pakistan the list goes on and on.
"I love being out on the floor with the products and the customers," says Ms. Gross. "I like helping people find the right thing, and we have such great customers. Many have become friends, and they often become volunteers at the store. When people come in here, they can relax and enjoy browsing. The whole atmosphere is appealing, and we offer complimentary coffee and cookies.
"I enjoy it so much," she continues. I believe in the concept and like what I do. I am pleased that another store has just opened in Highland Park. It, and the one in Red Bank, are a result of the success of the Princeton store. The more products we sell, the more we can buy from the artisans to help them. Some have no running water or electricity. I look forward to more stores opening because then more artisans will get work. 70 percent of them are women, and this gives them an opportunity to help their families and also to gain self-esteem."
Ten Thousand Villages will have a tent sale August 22 to Aug 26, with savings up to 75 percent to make room for new items.
Hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday 10 to 6:30, Thursday, Friday until 8; Sunday 11 to 5. (609) 683-4464. Website: Princeton.tenthousandvilages.com.
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