A sample of some of the many goods one can find in Ten Thousand Villages. (Photo by Meredith Bernstien)

by Meredith Bernstein

In 2003, Ten Thousand Villages found its home in Chestnut Hill. When customers come into the shop, they don’t just get gifts. They also get the experience of connecting with different cultures from around the world.

The store, at 8331 Germantown Ave., is a colorful collection of woven baskets from Uganda, fine metals from Haiti, bracelets from India and so much more.

“I’ve been here for 15 years, and I still see something new every time I’m here,” said store manager Stacey Dougherty.

TTV creates a shopping experience that is global and intentional. Operating as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a fair-trade business, all its efforts go toward empowering disenfranchised peoples from around the world.

“We help where we can do the most good,” Dougherty said.

In the store’s case, the most good comes from investing in lasting, long-term relationships with the artisans. TTV has been with some communities for 20 years now. Sons and daughters of the original makers now lead as the makers themselves. Simply put, the effects are generational. Its work transforms entire communities, their economy and their children’s future.

Each year, the organization has a national workshop where artisans and employees meet and share stories. Dougherty recalled meeting women from Vietnam, people from India and a man from Haiti. While the women from Vietnam spoke about the coop program that enhanced craftsmanship and children’s learning, the man from Haiti focused on his family’s improved housing, education and overall nutritional intake.

“They are enhancing their whole lives and their whole community,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty explained the production process by which TTV stays philanthropic through and through: “Buyers go into the villages, work with the artists and groups [sometimes co-designing products] and pay them in full before they leave the shores.”

Paying the artisans in full does present some challenges for the nonprofit, mainly that the money spent is not recovered until the company actually sells the goods. To stay alive, TTV solicits donations from its customers and other businesses.

The goods seen in stores are chosen according to the macro and micro trends in the U.S. market. A product that serves an important purpose in Uganda might not always translate well into the U.S. market, Dougherty explained. In order for both the artisans and the customers to reap the full benefits, buyers collaborate with the artisans about the materials and type of good chosen.

TTV is always looking to expand to more villages, Dougherty noted. The firm encourages anyone to suggest groups through a simple phone call or request through its website page.

The Chestnut Hill community – the heart, care and activism – is why TTV settled here 15 years ago. Dougherty knows that the community here gets it. Not to mention, the recent streamlining of tourism certainly doesn’t hurt to bring new attractions to town.

“The core community here really understands fair trade,” Dougherty explained. “It’s an activist community, so they want to make a difference with where they shop. [TTV] is a real big box retailer.”

Most of TTV’s customers come in for gifts that are different and amazingly unique. While there is certainly something for everybody in the store, jewelry is its biggest selling item. If you ask Dougherty, though, she gravitates toward the functional art pieces most.

“We have an amazing pizza cutter that’s a bicycle, which is the height for me,” she said. “That’s functional art. It’s pretty incredible.”

Dougherty believes shopping at TTV is much bigger than buying a global cookbook.

“Anybody who shops here should feel good about what they’re doing,” she added. “It’s important to know what you’re doing with your money and who you are empowering. It’s not just going to a big corporation. It is going to the people who need it.”

Meredith Bernstein is a student intern at the Local this summer.

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