“I’m just a woman trying to help other women.”
70 years ago, Ten Thousand Villages founder Edna Ruth Byler introduced the idea now known as fair trade. At the time, she didn’t realize that she would become the pioneer of a global movement for ethical sourcing and human rights. She simply saw a need and she acted.
Byler had traveled with her husband to Puerto Rico, where she met women in La Plata Valley who were struggling to feed their children. Having lived through hard times herself during the Depression, she knew the face of poverty. She also knew the importance of dignity and people wanting a way to help themselves.
Byler was moved to do something. She saw the pieces of fine embroidery the women of La Plata created, but had no place to sell. If she, an American, was so struck by these unique textiles, perhaps other Americans would also appreciate their beauty. Byler brought the pieces home and began to sell to friends and neighbors, driving her Chevy II packed with global needlework to women’s sewing circles and parties of interested friends across the country. She shared the stories of the makers, describing how each purchase meant that a woman gained economic independence and a chance to give her family a brighter future.
That was 1946. What started with a dozen women in Puerto Rico has grown to 20,000 artisans across the developing world. What started in the trunk of Edna Ruth Byler’s car has become a retail network of more than 70 shops nationwide plus an online store.
70 years…and every product, every purchase, has been based on the same principles.
We ensure that makers receive fair prices and have safe working conditions.
We provide advance payments so artisan groups can operate their businesses, purchase materials and pay individuals without having to go into debt.
We consult on trend and design, helping artisans adapt their traditional skills to create goods that are relevant and appealing to customers in the United States.
We use sustainable, natural or recycled materials and environmentally responsible processes.
We partner with women and people who are often overlooked so all have a chance to thrive.
We build long-term buying relationships to support the sustainability of artisan businesses.
70 years. 100% fair trade.
For every product, every purchase.
Because behind every product is a person.
And every person has a unique story – talents and interests, dreams and hopes for their future and their family. Fair trade opens the door for livelihoods and opportunities to flourish.
These stories of growth unfold over the long-term.
The young woman in Guatemala whose success as a team leader in a jewelry workshop gave her the confidence – and the income – to pursue her law degree.
The family workshop in Nepal that, with the support of fair trade, was able to rebuild and return to work, finding routine and hope following a crippling earthquake.
The communities in Vietnam that have overcome, over decades, the devastating economic and emotional aftermath of war through job opportunities that use traditional skills, from sewing to ceramics.
The villages in Bangladesh, where the danger of starvation was painfully real only a generation ago, that now offer employment through social enterprises that teach women to create handicrafts from local materials.
The families in developing countries all over the world, where meaningful wages and jobs enable parents to send their children to school instead of sending them to work.
They are the stories we know because we have been around to watch – visiting the workshops and homes of makers, meeting their families and sharing meals, watching their businesses, their skills and their children grow – year after year.
As we celebrate 70 years of fair trade, we invite you to join us. We invite you to #LiveLifeFair, to choose consciously, to choose fair trade as often as you can. The choice to #LiveLifeFair affects communities around the globe. We are all in this together; so in the words and spirit of Edna Ruth Byler, we can all be people helping other people. And that’s how we’ll make a difference.