Bangladesh Artisans

As summer fades and fall colours begin to blaze, I am reminded of the beauty of seasons. There are seasons in nature, seasons in life, and also, seasons in business.

In a challenging retail environment, Ten Thousand Villages is not immune to the pressures. As sales began to decrease, we undertook a massive brand exercise beginning in Fall 2013. The purpose was to determine, how best to engage with you, our current loyal customer and to determine how do we become relevant to a new generation of customers whose values align with ours.

You will begin to see a new generation of our logo and overall visual identity. We are excited about this freshening of a logo that has so much meaning. The logo and typeface are a reflection of the connection between the global village and our homes. The continuous lines represent our on-going connection, and the variety of sizes and shapes in the windows and doors represent both the homes of our makers, and ours. The house in the middle, more reflective of a North American home is nestled within the global village, representing our connection to the global village through the products purchased at Ten Thousand Villages that we bring into our lives.

We have already reinvented seven of our stores in Canada, and look forward over the coming months and years to rolling it out further.  The new in-store experience is an effort to highlight our makers and their products in a fresh, engaging way. We love that the craftsmanship and care that goes into each piece is more visible. We are also pleased with the artisan photos and stories, and the connection to our lives.

Our website has undergone similar changes. Updating our maker information, highlighting products and through our digital media, telling the stories of the people behind the products. If you are not already following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, I would invite you to join us!

You will see changes at Ten Thousand Villages Canada.  However, our mission:

To create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.

Has not, and will not change.

We are a retailer with a story… it’s a story of quality, handcrafted products, retail realities and challenges,but most importantly, it’s a story of life-changing artisan impact. We invite you to join in our story!

 

 

Holly DeGraaf

CEO, Ten Thousand Villages

As Canadians gather today at citadels, in school gyms and on parade route street corners to mark Remembrance Day, we’re reminded how lucky we are to be living in a country at peace.

Most of our school children and even adults – thankfully – have never known what it is to be at war, watching family members and neighbours perish in a maelstrom of hatred and fear.

But on the other side of the world, Cambodia is still, to this day, picking up the pieces following decades of unrest. Literally. The country’s countryside is littered with spent bomb and artillery shell casings.

Equipped with knowledge provided to them by Phontong Handicrafts Co-operative, artisans create every silk scarf from start to finish at the co-op. Starting with the mulberry tree and ending with weaving the silk, each step is crucial to the production of the fine Lao silk products.

The Importance of the Mulberry Tree

At Phontong Handicrafts Co-operative, there is a balanced ecosystem. The entire silk production cycle starts and ends with the planting of mulberry saplings. These saplings provide fruit for dyes, leaves for organic fertilizer and food for growing silkworms. The silkworms continue the cycle by producing cocoons and nutrient rich waste that can be used as fertilizer for mulberry and food crops.

Raising Silkworms

The silkworm is crucial to the silk production process. The silkworm creates a cocoon made by secreting two filaments from its mouth. One is a very thin strand of silk, and the other is a cord of gum called sericin. When exposed to the air, the two strands harden together and become one length of thread. This cocoon is the beginning of what will be beautiful silk products that Phontong creates.

The raising of silkworms is a full-time job. The producer must keep the silkworms in a rearing house to protect the worms from pests, diseases and to maintain a humidity level. The silkworms must be fed mulberry leaves three times per day. Because silkworms are such delicate insects, producers must ensure that there is little variation in their living environment—even residue from tobacco on the producer’s hands could spread sickness among the silkworms.

As the silkworms create their cocoons, the silk producer is also busy ensuring that the worms are distributed evenly on a frame, known as a mountage, and maintaining a clean environment for the silkworms.

Harvesting The Silk

After five days of being inside the cocoon, the silkworm turns into a dark pupa in transition from a silkworm to a silkmoth (similar to the process of a caterpillar to a butterfly). At this time, the cocoon is ready to be harvested and transformed into silk thread. The cocoons are plucked from the mountage and sorted according to quality. They are cleaned and the loose outer threads that are frayed are removed by hand.


Cocoons are then placed in boiling water to begin to separate the fragile silk from the sericin.

Up to 100 strands are pulled through simple tools in order to form one silk thread.

The new silk thread must then be soaked, cleaned and softened first in rice water, and then left over night to condition it to absorb natural dyes, and hung to dry. Once the silk has dried, it is ready to be boiled for many hours, this time in ash water to wash the sericin off the silk.

A soft texture will be created when the sericin boils away, and the silk is ready for weaving or dyeing.

Weaving

With beating combs and dancing shuttles, the village weaver creates the silk cloth finishing the cycle of silk production. Using skills learned from Phontong, the weaver operates a traditional loom. The weaving position is favoured among women in the village because it allows them to watch their children and participate in village life. Most weavers are able to produce 1 to 1.2 m in an eight hour day.

With the silk produced, Phontong Handicrafts Co-operative are able to create trendy silk scarfs and other items for the fair trade market. Ten Thousand Villages Canada recently received two of these soft scarves.

New in-store, and online:

Be the next part of this scarf’s story.

Shop the Purple Ikat Silk Scarf.

Shop the Black and White Ikat Silk Scarf.

“Face-to-face, transparent relationships with producers is the only context in which Fair Trade can flourish.”

-Stacey Toews, co-founder, Level Ground Trading.

We think our coffee tastes amazing. Whether it’s Tanzanian, Colombian or Ethiopian, we know that a cup of coffee made with beans bought at Ten Thousand Villages is going to be outstanding. And we know this from experience. If you’ve bought coffee from us in Canada anytime in the last 20 years, you’ll have bought some of the best beans in the business.

In 1997, Level Ground Trading was started by four families who wanted to come together to improve the lives of disadvantaged producers through trade. They wanted to make a difference. And they looked to Ten Thousand Villages for inspiration.

Hugo Ciro, co-founder and co-owner of Level Ground, was introduced to the difference that fair trade can make while volunteering for Ten Thousand Villages, then called Self Help Crafts. In the warehouse in Abbotsford, Hugo saw that when people came together to do good, they could make a real impact. It’s an experience that moved Hugo, so when his family came together with three others, he knew how they should proceed.

By 1998, Level Ground had secured a partnership with farmers in Colombia, and had bought, shipped, roasted, and packaged their first run of coffee. As soon as they were ready, Ten Thousand Villages came knocking. In fact, Ten Thousand Villages was Level Ground’s very first customer!

Level Ground has maintained their connection to Colombia, but have grown considerably since then. They now import coffee from Bolivia, Peru, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the D.R. Congo, and have expanded into tea from India, rice and coconut oil from the Philippines, spices from Sri Lanka, vanilla from Uganda, dried fruit, and sugar.

Each relationship that Level Ground has is built with the intention to last. They believe, as we do, that long term fair trading relationships are the best way to make real change. It’s also the best way to ensure top quality products.

Transparency and accountability also set Level Ground apart. They publish the financial details of every bulk purchase they make from producers, detailing the ‘conventional’ price at the time of purchase, the fair trade price paid, the fair trade premium paid, and more.

Level Ground also invests in social programs in farmers’ communities through Fair Trade Premiums. The recipient communities use these premiums to invest in educational scholarships, health care and economic development.

Level Ground takes the fair trade relationship even further than most other fair trade coffee companies. Each business relationship that Level Ground maintains is also a personal one. A farm co-operative working with Level Ground doesn’t deal with a faceless offshore corporation. On the contrary, Level Ground’s owners make a point of visiting with producers to understand their unique situations and opportunities. As they’re fond of saying, “We shake the hands that farm the land.”

“But wait,” you’re thinking, “I thought we were talking about Ten Thousand Villages’ coffee.”

The truth is, we are. For many years, every bag of coffee in Canada with the Ten Thousand Villages logo on it has also carried the Level Ground Trading logo. We trust this organization that’s founded on the same principles as we are to maintain positive relationships with farmers, trade fairly, ethically, and environmentally, and roast the very best beans they can find.

For pushing the boundaries of environmental stewardship, transparency, accountability and flavour, we tip our hats to Level Ground Trading, and look forward to the next 20 years of partnership.

Is there anything as disappointing as bad coffee?

Maybe you’ve been there: it’s the afternoon, and your morning buzz is long gone. Five o’clock is still hours away, but you need something to keep you focused on that deadline – so you fill your cup with whatever is left in the pot from this morning’s brew. Unsurprisingly, it’s stale, sour, and burnt-tasting. In a word: horrible. And no one deserves that.

While fresh coffee is undeniably superior to stale coffee, there are a lot of factors to keep in balance when you’re trying to brew the perfect cup. There’s a lot more to making a full-flavoured cup of coffee than meets the eye.

Growing

It all starts with the plant. Most coffee drinkers now know that there are two primary species of coffee plant – Arabica and Robusta – and that specialty coffee is almost exclusively Arabica. Arabica beans are much more pleasantly flavoured and have a lower amount of caffeine than Robusta. Almost 100% of the Fair Trade coffee beans sold are Arabica beans.

As any gardener knows, plants are delicate, and respond to whatever is happening in their environments. When you plant tulips in the shade, they take longer to bloom. If the soil is low in nutrients, the plants suffer. Coffee plants are the same. The best coffees are grown at high altitudes. This allows each plant to grow slowly, producing a dense bean with complex flavours.

Coffee growers experience years when the product isn’t up to standards. More or less rain than usual, unseasonable temperatures, disease, and other factors can lead to changes in the yield and character of every year’s crop. Most of the time, this isn’t a bad thing, and true connoisseurs are even known to seek out specific crops from regions around the world in search of exotic flavor notes.

Coffee from Level Ground is grown in South America and Africa, exclusively at high altitudes. Some places, like Bolivia and Peru, see very consistently flavoured crops, year in and year out. Others, like Tanzania and Congo, can see big fluctuations in flavour profile year to year.

Roasting

It’s important to trust whoever is in charge of roasting your coffee. Roasting coffee beans is, in some ways, like cooking a steak: there’s a very narrow window where the roasting (or ‘cooking’) time perfectly complements the bean. Too little, and the coffee can taste thin and acidic, too much, and you end up with coffee that tastes like charcoal! Like cooking, it’s as much an art as it is a science.

At Level Ground, they adjust their roast for every new shipment of beans. Every tiny adjustment affects the flavour of the final cup of coffee, and it can often take a dozen experiments to find the best roast for a particular crop. The attention to detail and pursuit of quality is what makes Level Ground coffee so spectacular – and it’s why we trust them to roast the coffee with our name on it.

Grinding

Grinding the coffee is the first chance you have, as a coffee drinker, to make your coffee better. By grinding the beans, you’re unlocking all the flavour compounds stored within the bean and making them available to be extracted.

Lots of people buy pre-ground coffee, and for good reasons – it’s convenient and consistent. The issue with pre-ground coffee is that it quickly loses flavour. If you are choosing pre-ground coffee, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. This helps keep the grinds fresh for as long as possible.

If you do grind your own beans, take the time to figure out what grind works for you. The rule of thumb is that the less time the coffee is in contact with water, the smaller the grind. This means if you’re making espresso, you want a very fine grind, while a French press requires coffee ‘chunks’ in comparison.

Beyond that rule of thumb, you can fine tune the grind size if you’re unhappy with the flavour of your coffee. A burr grinder – one that uses two ceramic or metal ‘gears’ to grind the coffee – produces a more uniform grind size and therefore a more uniform extraction of flavour. If you’re finding that the coffee you’re drinking is muddy tasting or lacking clarity, consider investing in a burr grinder.

Brewing

If you’ve done your best to choose high quality coffee, roasted by an expert, ground with precision, you should be home free – but you’re not. To truly perfect a cup of coffee, the brew method matters, too.

The main thing that matters is the ratio. This is where a lot of people get lost. Coffee extraction is a delicate operation, so eyeballing the amount you add will just lead to imprecise results – and that means bad coffee. Coffee experts suggest that unless you’re making espresso, the ideal ratio of water to coffee is around 15:1 to 18:1, by weight. This works out to about 55 grams of coffee for every litre of water. This ratio stays the same whether you’re using a coffeemaker, a French press, or a single cup pour over.

If you’ve perfected the ratio, and time and again are ending up with sour coffee, your equipment may be the culprit. Many countertop automatic coffeemakers heat the coffeepot from the bottom. Even though it’s not a lot of heat, this extra heating after the brewing process can scald the coffee before you’ve even poured your first cup. If you are using an automatic machine that heats from the bottom, the best advice is to serve quickly! As soon as the coffee has finished brewing, get the carafe off the heat and into cups. This will minimize the adverse effects.

Drinking

Now comes the best part.

Contrary to what you might hear, black isn’t best. What you like is best. Add milk, cream, sugar, soy, Splenda, or coconut oil – whatever helps make that cup taste perfect.

Take a moment to enjoy your coffee. We all have days when it’s all we can do to fill our travel mugs before rushing off to work, but whenever you can, take the time, relax, and think about how much care has gone into your drink. From the (fair trade) growers who pick the coffee cherries by hand, high in the mountains of South America or Africa, to Level Ground in Victoria, BC, where the beans are precision-roasted, tested for excellence, and packaged. From there the coffee makes its way to you, for you to honour, delight in, and savour. Isn’t all that worth a few moments in the morning?

In only a few short weeks, university and college students will be packing their bags, hitting the road and saying (tearful – at least on the parents’ side) goodbyes before settling into campus life.

They’ll also be decorating their new dorm rooms.

Recently, dorm décor has become more posh. While some students are still decorating their rooms with anything they can haul off the curb (and, of course, you’ve got to love their reuse-and-recycle style) there’s a new trend toward shelling out for shiny, new and perfectly designed dorm decor.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted in the U.S., college consumers planned to spend a whopping $6.23 billion on dorm furnishings, or an average of $114.21 per person in 2016. Big box stores have even been known to remain open well into the night to accommodate the surge of first year students trying to stock up on lamps, bedding, knick-knacks and toiletries. The trend is coming north too.

Luckily there’s a middle ground between curbside finds and blowing a budget at a big box store. By decorating with fair trade items, not only will students avoid big September crowds, they’ll avoid cookie-cutter décor, own pieces that are meant to last – and show new friends that they’re living their values.

stuffed pink elephant and pencil crayon picture frameAre you the kind of person whose eye is drawn to eye-catching colours, textures, and patterns?  Do you avoid drab spaces? Are you tired of homes where every piece of furniture looks like it was assembled with a tiny Allen key?

If this sounds like you, you’ve almost inevitably had the experience of falling in love with a dazzling piece in a store, buying it, and bringing it home – only to realize there’s nowhere in your home to properly show off your new prize.

The truth is that getting ‘mismatched’ pieces to fit together is not easy. This is why eclectic home décor is such a challenge – it’s also who so many people love designing this way. When an eclectically designed room comes together with the right balance, it can seem like magic.

Images that helped inspire the summer collection from Ten Thousand Villages Canada.

Fibre into fabric. People into relationships.

The crossing of threads becomes a crossing of paths,

Forever intertwined, connected to community.

A year ago, when Purchasing Director Kristen Fromm was beginning to build the 2017 summer collection, there was not yet a clear direction for the release. The lines and few images above, from the team that builds collections in the US, was the only starting point.

There’s something special about a handcrafted tablecloth. Whether hand loomed, printed, or embroidered, each one carries personal touches. There are always tiny imperfections – imperceptible to anyone but the maker and you– that reinforce the ties between your purchase and the life of the person who made the piece. It’s a special thing.

But if you’re not the kind of person who uses a tablecloth every day, you may be wondering what you’re going to do with the tablecloth outside of hosting a fancy meal a few times a year. Is it worth the investment, even when they’re a fantastic price?

We think so – and we’ve pulled together five awesome ways to use your tablecloth, even if you’re more inclined to show off the grain in your live edge table.

  1. Picnic In The Grass

Oh, Canada. Our country turns 150 this coming weekend and communities from coast to coast are planning to throw the ultimate bash.

But fireworks and festive frivolity aren’t the only ways to celebrate the Big-150. Considering this country provides everything from white sand beaches and pastel sunsets, to swaying wheat fields and staggering rugged mountain views, perhaps one of the most Canadian ways to celebrate is to head outdoors to marvel at it all. So should you decide to plant your umbrella, lace up your comfortable shoes or grab a paddle? Here are seven family-friendly activity ideas to add Canada Day spark to your summer.