Frequently Asked Questions

What is Ten Thousand Villages?

Ten Thousand Villages is an organization which sells handicrafts from “developing” countries through its network of stores in Canada and the USA, as well as hundreds of annual Festival sales. Ten Thousand Villages is a program of Mennonite Central Committee, a relief and development organization working in more than 50 countries around the world. Ten Thousand Villages has its roots in the work begun by Edna Ruth Byler in 1946.

Where does the name Ten Thousand Villages come from?

The inspiration for our name came from a 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.” To us, each village in the world represents a unique and distinctive people, offering extraordinary products born of their rich cultures and traditions.

Where does everything come from and who made it?

Products sold by Ten Thousand Villages come from 27 countries in the developing world. Ten Thousand Villages buys from more than 73 artisan groups which provides work for more than 20,000 individual people. About 70% of the artisans are women. Some artisan groups also seek to employ persons with physical disabilities. Ten Thousand Villages intentionally looks to work with people who are unemployed or underemployed. Products sold by Ten Thousand Villages are often made in small group settings or in homes where artisans also manage household responsibilities or farm work.

How much money does Ten Thousand Villages send back to the artisan?

None. Before placing an order, Ten Thousand Villages establishes what the artisan group considers to be a fair price. When placing the order, half the amount of the purchase price is sent with the order, allowing artisans to purchase the raw materials needed and to pay wages during production. Upon completion of the order, the remainder of the purchase price is paid before the order leaves the country. Orders are paid in full before they actually arrive in Canada.

How is a “fair wage” determined?

Ten Thousand Villages buyers talk directly with artisan groups. They also talk with other organizations working in the country to learn how much other people in the community earn – farm workers, construction workers, teachers, etc. It is Ten Thousand Villages’ goal to ensure that an artisan’s basic needs for food, clothing, housing, medical care and children’s education are met.

How are retail prices set?

The retail price for every item starts with a fair wage for the artisan. To this basic cost, Ten Thousand Villages adds the costs of shipping, importing, warehousing, marketing, administration and the costs related to running the retail store.

How do we find these artisans/products?

Ten Thousand Villages is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a relief and development organization with contacts in more than 50 countries around the world. More than 500 MCC workers live and work in 40 developing countries. In many cases, these MCC workers introduce us to artisans. Some groups also introduce us to other artisan groups they know. Sometimes contact is made through the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) – a Fair Trade association of more than 200 members of which Ten Thousand Villages is a founding member. There are many more artisan groups requesting our attention than we can possibly buy from.

How are we different from mainstream importers?

People first, product second! We deliberately go looking for people who have no marketing connections. In some cases, we buy from artisans who have never made anything they could sell before. We first encourage artisans to make whatever they can from raw materials they have locally available. As we work together, they are able to increase their sophistication. Sometimes, we are able to provide artisan groups with enough marketing and product design assistance that they are able to attend trade shows and develop other trading relationships.

Is everything really handmade?

Products are often made in home workshops. Stone workers use power tools but the items are still made one at a time. The majority of weavers use hand looms. Being individually made, products are not always identical.

Why aren’t there any products from economically marginalized Canadians?

Our mandate is to work with poor artisans in developing countries where governments generally do not have social assistance programs to help unemployed or disabled people.