Shop!

It Takes Ten Thousand Villages

Greenville store provides outlet for artisans worldwide

By Carly Wellham |

Artists from Haiti, India, Kenya and 38 other countries sell their creations, ranging from beautiful wall art to handmade toys and games, at Ten Thousand Villages in Greenville, Del.

Ten Thousand Villages, a 60-year-old marketplace, sells original artwork, jewelry, home décor and more from all over the world. It was created to help artisans from foreign countries live a quality lifestyle and showcase their talents across the United States.

The store manager of the Greenville location, Kate Jamal, said that the store often has new merchandise for its customers. She also said that if an item is not selling, Ten Thousand Villages works with the artisans to make products that will sell.

“We get 50 [to] 100 new items every month. We also replenish stock on regular items every week,” Jamal said. “Because we are a different kind of retailer with long-term relationships with our artisan partners, the same items may be in our store for many years, depending on how well they sell. Even if an item or collection does not sell well, we work with the artisans to develop other products that will sell in our market.”

Selling doesn’t seem to be a problem for the store since they have so many beautiful things. Jamal said that several of the items in the store are popular, and it would be hard to pinpoint the No. 1-selling piece.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Jamal said. “Our most popular items include a fireplace screen, alpaca wool cape, a Nativity music box, bathrobe, several necklaces, candleholders, scarves and purses, and many other things.”

Edna Ruth Byler founded Ten Thousand Villages in 1946 after she was struck by the overwhelming poverty of Puerto Rican artists. Byler began selling their artwork to friends and family to help support artisans as well as spread the word about their one-of-a-kind work.

For the next 30 years Byler connected individual entrepreneurs in developing countries with market opportunities in America. She helped give the artisans a stable income to support their family and their craft.

Today, with 72 stores in the United States, Ten Thousand Villages supports tens of thousands of artisans around the world. This marketplace thrives by providing unique artwork for customers while providing Fair Trade and a quality lifestyle for artisans.

The majority of customers who shop at the Ten Thousand Villages store in Greenville like to take their time so that they don’t overlook any of the beautiful items.

“We are primarily a browsing store, but when people learn of our Fair Trade mission and especially after they’ve been in a few times, they often become regular customers,” Jamal said. “Many customers tell me we are their favorite store, and that they come to us first when they need a gift, or accessory for themselves, or to decorate their home.”

According to Jamal, anywhere from 20 to 100 customers visit the store daily, and about 25 percent to 50 percent buy something.

Ten Thousand Villages has a wide variety of wedding, graduation and holiday gifts so that customers can find one-of-a-kind gifts while providing a better lifestyle for those in need. A gift registry and gift cards are also available.

Ten Thousand Villages is a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), which establishes fair standards when working with international trading. WFTO also prohibits forced or child labor, and provides safe and healthy working environments.

The artisans are paid in full by Ten Thousand Villages before their products have even been placed on the market. This system of pay allows the artisans to purchase raw materials and continue working without going into debt and ensures that they are not affected by any markdowns in pricing.

“We do have regulars, but we also get a lot of new visitors every day,” Jamal said. “We need more customers so that we can continue to benefit the artisans. Fair Trade is really important to support, not just for humanitarian reasons. It helps the environment, it’s affordable, [and] it solves consumer needs as well as producer needs.”

To volunteer, learn more or view the large selection of merchandise, visit www.tenthousandvillages.com.