Investigating Consumerism In Ten Thousand Villages

Before walking into Ten Thousand Villages, signs ensured purchases in the store were a communal and moral claim. Quotes such as:  “You’re preserving artistic traditions” “Come check out what they've been working on!” and “For the Mindful” filled their window. Does this store know how to be sustainable? In other words, do they support the needs of the  community -equitably, economically and environmentally- while supporting the needs of the future inhabitants of the system?  I talked to a spunky Junior from the University of Vermont who works at the shop on Church Street part-time. He said the problem is “we live in a bubble,” our minds never think about the effects of being a consumer-which is why he loves to work for Ten Thousand Villages. Products, their makers, and getting a product to the consumer, affect the greater world we live in. In these three areas, I found that Ten Thousand Villages gives its best effort to make this process sustainable.

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A sales associate said that the company strives to keep the earth’s resources in balance as much as possible using the most sustainable sources. This can be natural materials that grow near the maker’s home or they might use recycled materials or vegetable dyes for added color. The college student said the products are mostly “green” but there are still hints of products that can’t completely be produced sustainably.

This company is committed to not selling single sourced products. Single source buyings are “purchases from one selected supplier, even though there are other suppliers that provide similar products,” (Purchasing Procurement Center) so even if there are two similar products in Ten Thousand Villages stores, they probably come from two out of the 20,000 different makers that partner with the nonprofit. This ensures a strong economic front while providing a flow of money to different communities across the globe. Ten Thousand Villages creates lasting relationships of promised good working conditions and mutually agreed upon prices where sellers get full price for the item before it’s sold to the consumer (50% upfront, 50% at the time of export).  

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But it's not just about where your money goes, but the story behind each product. The sales associate that we talked to was enthusiastic: telling us about different sellers, explaining the  mission of the company and the history behind it all. It all started in 1940s with Edna Ruth Byle selling woven fabrics and telling buyers about the makers of these products and their burden of inequality and how much one purchase meant to them.

Although this system isn’t perfectly sustainable: products aren't 100% sustainable and in order to get a product to the door, fossil fuels were probably used overseas and in transport trucks- this business is way more advanced in sustainability than most.  Byle’s legacy still lives on in the employees of the shops and the relationships made with sellers. It is all done with knowledge that we must balance our social, economic, and environmental needs for a better future.

Posted by Jacquelyn Nutter on Oct 23, 2018 3:42 PM America/Chicago


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