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How Ten Thousand Villages Came to Be

Ten Thousand Villages began 70 years ago when Edna Ruth Byler traveled to Puerto Rico and met women who were doing beautiful embroidery, but had no way to sell their products. “She took some pieces home in her suitcase and began to sell them to women in her home community in Lancaster County, Pa.,” explained Juanita Fox, advertising coordinator, Ten Thousand Villages, Akron, Pa.

A member of the Saidpur Enterprises staff making a tote bag with recycled sari. Ten Thousand Villages began 70 years ago.

Because her husband was the director of Mennonite Central Committee, a relief organization, she had the opportunity to travel to other countries and meet more women. As she did, she continued to purchase more products and sell them to women in the United States. Churches eventually became involved, embracing Mrs. Byler’s desire to help women around the world.

Stores began to open in the early 1970s and by the late 1980s fair trade began to be a worldwide movement. Ten Thousand Villages helped to found World Fair Trade Organization in 1989. In 1996, Ten Thousand Villages adopted the organization’s current name and celebrated 50 years of fair trade. That same year Ten Thousand Villages corporate offices launched a concentrated campaign to open stores in new markets. Today there are 74 stores.

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