Fair trade is not a new concept for Ten Thousand Villages. In 1946, when founder Edna Ruth Byler caught her first glimpse of the impoverished lives of artisans in Puerto Rico, Ten Thousand Villages was initiated as a grassroots effort to provide economic opportunities for artisans in developing nations.
Today, Ten Thousand Villages is an international network of retailers that collectively represent one of the largest fair-trade organizations in the world, offering a spectrum of handcrafted goods produced by more than 120 disadvantaged artisan groups in 35 nations.
One of these artisan groups is known as Bunyaad (meaning “foundation”), which encompasses over 830 families from 100 villages in Pakistan, some of which were directly impacted by the flooding of the Indus River in July.
Every year, Bunyaad supplies Ten Thousand Villages with thousands of natural dye rugs that are handcrafted by artisans in the villages to help stimulate their economy. Ten Thousand Villages’ fair trade sales in the United States and Canada have enabled families of Bunyaad to build and staff schools, support a variety of village development initiatives and help level the economic playing field for women within the villages.
“Fair trade promotes very strong foundations within the villages because people know that this will sustain them long-term,” says Yousaf Chaman, rug program director for Ten Thousand Villages. “With fair trade programs, each loom is given to a family. That means both men and women have equal opportunities. It provides them the opportunity to get fully paid without having to leave their villages. They determine their wage. They can choose 50 percent upfront, if they want. They can choose to be paid every 15 days or on a monthly basis. They can create a budget for themselves and be allowed to live normal lives.”
Ten Thousand Villages’ Fair Trade Oriental Rug Event is held annually, however the recent floods that destroyed many families’ homes make this year’s event particularly crucial to reinvigorating the economy of villages in the Dera Ghazi Khan region.
“We have 200 families that are directly impacted by the floods,” says Chaman. “They’re not looking for handouts. They want the opportunity to restart their lives. If they have to live in tents for a few months, that’s alright with them. At least they’ll have money for food, shelter and clothing. People just really want to get back to work and that’s our goal — to help them get back to work.”
Chaman reports that the rugs are all handmade by artisans in their own homes. Each rug takes up to 14 months to complete and has between 500 and 1,300 knots per square inch. Fifty percent of the dyes used are naturally made from organic materials, such as orange peels, pomegranate shells and tree barks, all of which are acquired from within the families’ village.
“The natural surroundings of these villages are what actually give them their ideas for natural dyed rugs,” Chaman says. “Walk outside of the villages and you see fields, flowers and hundreds of birds. It’s so beautiful. So many colors.”
Due to heavy demand, however, artisans are pushed to finish rugs much quicker in workshops and factories that are oftentimes located over a 100 miles away from their villages. Artisans will commonly work up to 12 hours per day and have the opportunity to return to their village only once every 10-15 days.
“It certainly gives them a job, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a healthy environment,” Chaman says. “The traditional rugs are very much inspired by the village environment, so when this environment is taken away, the artisan is basically creating something to be sold instead of something from their heart and soul.
“In recent years, it’s become more about the labor then the art,” he adds.
The retailer derives its name from a quote by Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi: “…India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages … we have hardly ever paused to inquire if these folks get sufficient to eat and clothe themselves with.”
Last year, Ten Thousand Villages accumulated more than $70,000 in rug sales, 60 percent of which went directly to the artisans.
Chaman notes that Ten Thousand Villages’ fair trade model provides artisans with materials, looms and tool upgrades in order to set the standard for a high-quality product. This model has been in place since 1992.
“When people have good economics in their community and everyone has a job opportunity, people are thinking about development,” says Chaman, who goes to Pakistan twice a year to visit the families and figure out exactly how fair trade is impacting their lives.“They can sit together and discuss the needs of their village. This naturally builds peace within these communities.
“We’re finding that fair trade communities are peaceful, friendly environments.”
The Annual Fair Trade Oriental Rug Event will be kicked off Sept. 22 at Ten Thousand Villages in O’Bryonville. An Introduction to Oriental Rugs seminar will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at the store to explain how knotting rugs is changing the lives of women and their families in Pakistan. The seminar is free, but reservations are required. For more information, call 513-871-5840.