Our Story

A Pioneering Businesswoman

The global fair trade movement began with the founding of Ten Thousand Villages more than 60 years ago through the visionary work of Edna Ruth Byler, a pioneering businesswoman. Byler was struck by the overwhelming poverty she witnessed during a trip to Puerto Rico in 1946, where she was moved to take action. The seminal contribution of Byler ignited a global movement to eradicate poverty through market-based solutions.

Byler believed that she could provide sustainable economic opportunities for artisans in developing countries by creating a viable marketplace for their products in North America. She began a grassroots campaign among her family and friends in the United States by selling handcrafted products out of the trunk of her car. Byler made a concerted effort to educate her community about the lives of artisans around the world.

For the next 30 years, Byler worked tirelessly to connect individual entrepreneurs in developing countries with market opportunities in North America. From humble beginnings, Ten Thousand Villages has grown to a global network of social entrepreneurs working to empower and provide economic opportunities to artisans in developing countries.

65 Years of Trading Fairly

1946 — Edna Ruth Byler, the wife of a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) administrator, travels to Puerto Rico and meets women artisans. She purchases their needlework and sells it to her friends and neighbors in Central Pennsylvania.

1952 — Edna Ruth Byler and Ruth Lederach team up to display and sell crafts at the Mennonite World Conference in Basel, Switzerland. The project becomes the Overseas Needlepoint and Crafts Project.

1961 — Joyce Shutt and Ruth Musselman hold the first Festival Sale at Fairfield Mennonite Church, Fairfield, Pa.

1962 — Mennonite Central Committee adopts the Overseas Needlepoint and Crafts Project as an official program.

1968 — Overseas Needlepoint and Crafts Project becomes SELFHELP Crafts.

1970 — Edna Ruth Byler retires. Joyce Bratton serves as interim director for one year.

1971 — Janet Yoder begins as director.

1972 — The first gift and thrift shop selling SELFHELP: Crafts of the World products opens in Bluffton, Ohio.

1976 — Paul Leatherman begins as executive director and takes a year-long trip around the world to meet artisans.

1985 — A self-evaluation prompted a decision that SELFHELP: Crafts of the World should be financially self-sufficient.

1986 — Sales topped $3.6 million; SELFHELP: Crafts of the World moves into the Miller-Hess building in Akron, Pa., to accommodate growth.

1989 — SELFHELP: Crafts of the World helps to found IFAT: The International Fair Trade Association; Paul E. Myers begins as CEO of Ten Thousand Villages.

1996 — SELFHELP: Crafts of the World celebrates its 50th anniversary and changes its name to Ten Thousand Villages.

1997 — Ten Thousand Villages begins to open company stores.

2000 — Ten Thousand Villages was incorporated as an independent nonprofit, charitable organization (501(c)3), wholly owned by MCC.

2006 — Craig Schloneger begins as CEO; Ten Thousand Villages reaches record sales of $20 million, celebrates a growing network of stores in North America, and begins to sell online.

2008 to 2013 — Ten Thousand Villages named one of the "World's Most Ethical Companies" by the Ethisphere Institute and Forbes Magazine.

2012 — Ten Thousand Villages and MCC enter partnership agreement. Ten Thousand Villages is no longer wholly owned by MCC.