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Fair Trade Shopping at Ten Thousand Villages

Imagine shopping for gifts this holiday season in a cozy, beautifully decorated shop scented with cinnamon and coffee. Imagine that your purchase makes a difference in your community and throughout the developing world, too.

Peaceful African or Indian music plays while you browse through the colorful, cheerful isles and shelves, filled with treasures created by skilled artisans. There is no pressure from the helpful salespeople; they are all volunteers who believe in supporting the fair trade mission of this store, Ten Thousand Villages. The income from what you choose to purchase goes directly to the artisan who created it, and to communities in all corners of the world.


"We are a local nonprofit that relies on sales and donations to keep our fair trade mission in a store in Seattle," says Kmbris Bond, president of our local store, which is tucked into a corner of Seattle's Roosevelt District.

Ten Thousand Villages works with more than 130 artisan groups in 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Through fair trade, artisans are paid a fair wage for their work and in turn are given the opportunity for a better quality of life. In most department stores, the connection is not made between the customer and the person who made the item they are purchasing. At Ten Thousand Villages, that connection is made and celebrated.

Yet, does all of this matter to your child as they step into the store and see brightly colored zebras, giraffes and frogs? To them, this is a field trip around exotic places of the world!

My children love the intriguing selection of instruments. There are drums of all shapes and sizes, traditional rain sticks, whistles, noisemakers and thumb pianos. And there are lots of toys, too. As with every item that you hold in your hand at Ten Thousand Villages, you can connect to the person who made it by hearing their story.


The adorable finger puppets, priced at $3.50, are made by a fair trade organization called Manos Amigas, or "Hands Joined in Friendship." They work with families who live in impoverished areas of Lima and the Andean highlands. And back here in Seattle, they look very cute peaking out of the top of a Christmas stocking.

Another toy that touches my heart is the Batsirana Sharing Doll. When you purchase one of these beautifully made, soft and huggable dolls for $34.95, its "twin" doll is given to a child in Zimbabwe who is affected by HIV or AIDS.

While shopping at Ten Thousand Villages, you really get the sense of the power that your purchase holds, especially around the holidays. If you are feeling that you would like to support the Philippines after the tragedy that took place there recently, Ten Thousand Villages sells the handiwork of artisans of the Highland Women's Multipurpose Co-op.

"The women turn old newspapers into beautiful products by wrapping the paper into coils to make spiraled building blocks," reads the story that accompanies the craft. These baskets, picture frames, earrings and coasters are truly impressive, and are very affordable.

Another favorite Ten Thousand Villages item is the Guatemalan Worry Dolls. These tiny dolls, priced at $6, come in a colorful woven bag. Children can tell their worries to the dolls. I've found them under my son's pillow on occasion, and they seem to help him. They are very inexpensive and are a great stocking stuffer.

The cheery Orange Peel Doll, at $6, is created from orange peels in orange juice producing areas of Columbia. This is the ultimate in recycling and ingenuity.

Throughout the store, hacky sacks and comical winter hats featuring lions and Angry Birds can be found, as well as pillows, wall hangings and home décor.


Many of the crafts that you see are examples of art forms that have been practiced and passed down through centuries. These crafts are being kept alive through the support of Ten Thousand Villages. The Phoenician Glass from the West Bank is an example of this. I left the store with an intricately swirled glass ornament in a rich purple and green. A silly "Yeti" Christmas ornament also made its way into my bag along with, of course, fair trade chocolate. The gorgeous bright yellow and turquoise throw made from repurposed saris is on my wish list!

Ten Thousand Villages carries an impressive collection of hats, silk or wool scarves and an eclectic selection of purses. There are walls and counters filled with very reasonably priced, unique jewelry from all over the world. Children can easily choose something for their mother, grandmother or big sister as a gift for Christmas.

If you are looking for a way to corral your household clutter, or organize your toys, including the ones that will soon be arriving at your house, Ten Thousand Villages has a wide selection of baskets in all shapes and sizes ranging in price from $5 to $39. Many of these baskets come with lids and are a great, eco-friendly alternative to plastic storage bins.

Ten Thousand Villages, while operating on a global scale, is truly a community store. Families come in regularly to spend an afternoon, shopping and exploring. Be sure to watch the events calendar found on their website; they'll be hosting a regular book club, craft and movie nights.

As well, stop by on Dec. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m.; the Roosevelt Neighborhood Winter Celebration and Tree Lighting will be held right outside the store. This is a free event that will feature live music, warm beverages and treats, and gifts for everyone.

At this time of year, Ten Thousand Villages is filled to the brim with nativities from around the world, garlands and a host of unique Christmas ornaments. Stop by to see what treasures you may find, and to support the mission of fair trade in Seattle.

All photos by Tonya Cunningham.

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