What’s on Diana Livia Drnovscek’s and Melissa Cressman’s desks at the Ten Thousand Villages head office in New Hamburg, Ontario? They’re scattered with products you won’t find online or in-store.
Or at least not yet.
Diana, interim Purchasing Coordinator, and Melissa, Purchasing Artisan Liaison, make purchases and communicate with artisan partners. Recently we sat down with them to get a behind-the-scenes look at how our buying process really works. We discovered that when it comes to purchasing fair trade goods, life is full of surprises.
Here are six things about fair trade buying that might astonish you:
- We think about whole collections, not single products. Each year, Ten Thousand Villages in the U.S. sends us “storyboards” that highlight trends for the coming year, based on extensive market research. Each board is filled with photos and words that evoke a feeling. For instance, if the trend is leaning toward cool and icy, the board is filled with words such as, “glacial crystals” or “early winter’s dawn.” When Diana reaches out to artisans, she’ll look for products that align with the feeling and visuals – but still adhere to fair trade principles and artisans’ skill-sets. “The trends can be super big, but we need to ground the trends in something that makes sense to us,” Diana says.
- It’s about give and take. Sometimes we share storyboards with artisan partners and they come back to Ten Thousand Villages with product samples that match the theme. In other cases, our artisans simply reach out to us with new product ideas and we’re delighted to find some are already a perfect fit. These ideas arrive in our email inboxes, or sometimes on disks in the mail.
- It can take weeks – or years – to perfect a product. Guess how long it took to green light our Bike and Beasts Cushion. About five years! Although we adored the nakshi kantha hand-embroidery from the beginning, it took many tries before we settled on a motif that would work for a North American audience.
- Visits in and visits out. While most of our buying happens online today, we do still try to get out to visit our artisan partners in person. Each year we aim to travel to at least one country to visit our partners who live there. We are also very lucky to welcome many artisans to Canada. This July, representatives from CRC and Noah’s Ark in India will bring us samples and catalogues to peruse.
- Technology has transformed the process. It’s true. Gone are the days when we had to traverse countries on foot or use crackly landlines to connect with artisans. Today, it’s all about email and smartphones, which are more reliable and available than landlines in many areas of the world. “I don’t actually own a smartphone,” says Melissa, “but my contacts in these developing countries are all sending me messages that say, ‘Sent from my iPad’ or ‘Sent from my iPhone!’” We sometimes also use Skype and other video tools to stay connected.
- We have a sense of responsibility. When deciding which products to buy, we must consider balancing the needs of all our producers. We’re committed to building long-term, fair trading relationships so artisans can earn an honest living; provide a home, food and education for their children; and be gainfully employed in a job that brings dignity and joy. “We have to budget by group so we’re not spending a lot one year and nothing the next,” says Diana. “It can be challenging, but we have a responsibility to provide balance and consistency.”
|Bike and Beast Cushion||Sari Wrap Lidded Basket|