I was recently invited to attend the Ten Thousand Villages National Workshop in Lancaster, PA. As a new board member of the Asheville store, I was very excited to go and the experience was incredible! It was two and a half days packed with information. So many things were covered that what follows is only the tip of the iceberg.
One of the most interesting things was a discussion on how Ten Thousand Villages is moving away from the phrase “Fair Trade” (although they still onlysell Fair Trade products!!). Similar to the way the SRI movement has seen an increase in “greenwashing” (misleading advertising that an investment fund is green when it still contains fossil fuel investments), Ten Thousand Villages has seen an increase in “Fair Trade washing.” A growing number of large corporations have begun creating their own fair-sounding certifications with no third-party verification. Consumers are experiencing label fatigue and are tired of trying to figure out what certifications are legitimate.
Because of that, while Ten Thousand Villages will still sell only third-party verified Fair Trade items, they are moving towards describing their process more along the lines of microfinancing and ethical investing (see below photo for details). By explaining what it is they do without using terms like Fair Trade, they are hoping consumers will be able to connect with their mission and understand that it is legitimate.
The workshops started with a whirlwind tour of two Ten Thousand Villages stores in the Lancaster, PA area. It was fascinating to see the entirely different layouts and what sold better, despite carrying the same products. One store was located in an outlet mall, and the other on the bottom floor of a Bed & Breakfast. There is a growing movement in Ten Thousand Villages stores across the nation to cut down on the use of plastic for displays, and instead use natural rocks and branches. We heard about one store that upcycled crates from shipping materials and used them to build a counter for the cash register. Another store is testing out a “DIY Eco-Friendly Wrapping Station,” where customers can use foreign newspapers and twine from the shipping materials to wrap their purchases (they also received free maps from local universities looking to downsize their maps collections – which make lovely wrapping paper!).