Denise Winslow is, by her own admission, "not a huge consumer." Not a big shopper. But there was something about the little store that drew her in.
She saw the shop several years ago when she and her friend Georgia Baddley were in Nampa, Idaho, on business. The two women work with people with disabilities. They were on their way to a human services conference when they walked past an intriguing-looking store. The sign over the door read "Ten Thousand Villages."
The shop window was filled with handicrafts, pretty things from somewhere else. Carvings and batiks and beadwork and drums. As well as being exotic, the goods appeared to be lovingly constructed.
Baddley and Winslow went inside. They met the store manager. They returned after the meeting and spoke to her again — for hours.
They were beguiled by the concept behind the store, the concept of fair trade, of paying enough for a product so that the person who made it might be able to eat. When Baddley and Winslow returned to Salt Lake City they talked to friends about the idea. They explained that the shops are staffed by volunteers — and that those who work there and those who buy the products are helping craftspeople in developing countries.
Their friends got excited, too. Says Baddley, "Our friends want to make a difference. Seems to be the crowd we travel in."
And then, last year, their friends decided they'd talked long enough. Baddley and Winslow called the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ church, the stores' founders. Next they gathered a board of directors and applied to start a nonprofit corporation. They held benefits. They raised $53,000. National headquarters loaned them another $53,000 for start-up costs. Their friends talked to other friends. Soon they had 150 volunteers. On Aug. 18 they opened Utah's first Ten Thousand Villages shop.
The Utah store, at 2186 S. Highland Drive, is one of more than 180 such stores across the United States and Canada. Each store has a paid manager but is staffed by volunteers. The stores carry goods from 30 different countries, giving partial support to 60,000 craftspeople — most of whom also raise crops and livestock. On average, the artisans get 25 cents, upfront, for every dollar their goods will bring. Last year, the stores' sales totaled more than $17 million.
Ten Thousand Villages began in one village. In 1946, a woman named Edna Ruth Byler accompanied her husband to Puerto Rico. He was the head of the Mennonite Central Committee, their church's relief and development agency. But she was the one the village women came to for help. They pleaded with her to buy their embroidered linens.
Byler was saddened by their poverty, touched by the beauty of their craft. She bought as much of their handiwork as she could fit in her suitcase, and she paid a decent price. Then she took the goods home and sold them to her friends. Later, as she traveled the world with her husband, she bought more goods. When she got back to the United States she sold things out of her basement and out of her car.
Some 24 years later, her church decided to make Byler's efforts an official part of its development program. The Mennonites opened the first Ten Thousand Villages store in 1972 in Akron, Pa.
In Utah, as in the majority of Ten Thousand Village stores, the volunteers are not Mennonites but come from various faiths and philosophies. In working with the Mennonites, Winslow feels a sense of trust. "You draw upon their religious conviction," she says.
The church supplies the products to the individual stores, buying goods from artisans' cooperatives throughout the Third World. Ten Thousand Villages is a member of the International Federation for Alternative Trade. The mission statement says the artisan's quality of life is the main concern. A secondary but important goal: The environment is not destroyed to produce these goods.
Winslow and Baddley value other cultures and hope they are helping artists to make a living in their own country.
Getting this store started has been a labor-intensive volunteer project for the two friends, who both still work full-time in human services. It is a project Winslow says they never would have taken on were it not for the mission. "When you go into this store and hold something in your hand, you are directly linked to the artisan," she says.
"There is a passion behind this. It is not about things to have and things to get. It's about people we're connected to through their handiwork."