Bangladesh Artisans

artisan-rafia-nasir-s72I sit beside Rafia Nasir on the loom, where she works on a 6’ x 9’ Persian rug with her two sisters.

Rafia is a new mom, just like I am. She holds her nearly eight-month-old little girl, letting her grab at the taut warp threads as she takes a break from her work. Rafia chuckles as I have to run and change my son’s diaper, tossing him down on her charpai – a rope bed, in the middle of her home – and asking if she minds if I change him there. It’s my son’s first trip to the villages of Pakistan. And at age two, he’s taking it all in, including the chicken running into the house from the outside courtyard.

gha2013_cm_1076My third grade teacher once said, “Learn one new thing each day.” Many years later, I can still hear her words in the back of my mind, and I often ask myself: “What did I learn today?”

In my role at Ten Thousand Villages, I not only have the privilege of working with our artisan partners every day, but I often get to learn something new from them as well.

As I began to learn about one of our new partners, Ele Agbe from Ghana in West Africa, I was immediately intrigued. I was impressed by their unique production processes and the beautiful products they create – in many cases, using what we would consider everyday trash. Ele Agbe uses items we would generally carry to the curb on recycling day to create Ten Thousand Villages’ newest recycled glass necklace.

yes 0There’s no doubt that the work I get to be a part of at Ten Thousand Villages is inspiring. And yet, as with any job, from time to time, we can all use a tangible reminder about why we do what we do.

In September 2013, we invited Moses and Esther from Kaki Creations in Kenya to join us for our national store manager workshops. They shared stories about life in Kenya and the good work they’re doing there. It was an amazing opportunity for staff to meet some of our artisan partners, and to hear firsthand about the business they’re building and the contributions they’re making to strengthen their community.

BODY1 - love knot sculpturePractical. Unique. Fun. Meaningful. Quality. Stories. Hand-crafted. Functional. Affordable. These words popped up repeatedly while researching the topic of the perfect wedding gifts from Ten Thousand Villages.

Marriage and weddings are top-of-mind around here these days (as are babies … but I’ll leave that topic to another blogger), since FOUR of my co-workers are engaged to be married. Summer is traditionally known as “wedding season,” so I thought a post about great wedding gifts would be appropriate. And who better to ask for their ideas than our brides- and grooms-to-be! They all graciously agreed to be interviewed because, really, who doesn’t like to talk about PRESENTS!

Gifts are fun. They’re exciting. And there’s probably not another event in your whole life where you get to sit around and open dozens of boxes and envelopes, all filled with wonderful things (again, except perhaps for baby showers). I asked my four colleagues to walk through the New Hamburg store with me and point out items they would give as gifts, as well as an item or two they and their significant other would love to receive to mark the beginning of their married lives.

TOP - Exterior shot of mill“This is where you belong,” a customer said, when she discovered the Ten Thousand Villages location in St. Jacobs, Ontario had just opened this past May.

Back when Ten Thousand Villages (then known as SelfHelp Crafts) was just beginning, one of the first Canadian locations was in The Mill in St. Jacobs. Over the years, the store moved around the village, and finally settled down to become what is now the Waterloo store.

The St. Jacobs Mill is a beautifully restored historic building perched on the Conestoga River, with local and Canadian artisan weavers and potters tucked snugly in the silos. A local artist hosts his gallery next to the silos, and three museum displays and a model train fill the majority of the building. The street side entrance welcomes visitors with Scottish treasures, and is once again home to Ten Thousand Villages.

79 - PhilippinesWe periodically receive questions from customers such as:

  • Why does Ten Thousand Villages buy products from the specific groups you work with?
  • Why do you import from those particular countries and regions?
  • Are you open to adding new groups from new countries?

Ten Thousand Villages’ mission is 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.” This drives everything we do, and we will not compromise our commitment to our Fair Trade principles.

strutting-bird-tinFair Trade retailers like Ten Thousand Villages carry hundreds of pieces of beautiful work made by artisans from all over the world. Our mission is to bring these works of art to markets artisans wouldn’t otherwise have access to, while facilitating opportunities for disadvantaged people around the world to make a living doing dignified work.

When many people think about Fair Trade products, they often automatically assume they’ll be expensive, and that they’ll have to pay a premium to buy ethically. This simply isn’t true, though. Fair Trade retailers stock a wide variety of products that are inexpensive, while still beautiful and high quality.

SteveAt Ten Thousand Villages, we recognize that our success is driven by the amazing staff and volunteers who work hard every day to keep the wheels turning.

One of our fine staff members is Steve Dorion. Steve has been with us for about three years – first on a temporary contract, and now permanently as Materials Handling Coordinator at our 58,000-square-foot distribution centre in New Hamburg, Ontario.

Steve wears many hats. But his primary responsibility is to ensure products are stored and organized well in our warehouse, and are easily accessible when it’s time for them to be picked for shipment to stores, festival sales and e-commerce customers.

RS8814_CIMG3925On a cool, bright Sunday morning, an elderly man with salt and pepper hair and a jovial manner walked into our store. He was looking for a gift for a friend. While he didn’t have a specific idea in mind, he mentioned that his daughter had suggested that he check out Ten Thousand Villages. And so, that morning he was there to pick up a unique handcrafted gift for a special loved one.

 

 

Top imageNow that the warm weather is here, the season for entertaining friends and family in our outdoor spaces is in full swing.

As soon as the snow finally melted away, we here at Ten Thousand Villages could hardly wait to throw a garden party! What better way to celebrate the change of seasons than by enjoying good food and good company with some fair trade flair.

To make your own “Fair Trade Flair Garden Party” easy as pie, just follow our simple four-step process: