Global efforts in Fort Collins

The goal is plain and simple — to make trade a fair process.

The Ten Thousand Villages store located in Old Town Square works not only to sell products from developing nations at a fair rate, but also to support families and show the beauty through crafts that have been created in nations across the globe.

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“It all started with a woman, by the name of Edna Ruth Byler, out of Pennsylvania, who would travel to Puerto Rico and purchase cross-stitch from the locals,” said Wendy Poppen, the Fort Collins Ten Thousand Villages manager. “She would then come home and sell the artisan products for a fair rate and support the artisans in Puerto Rico.”

According to Poppen, Byler continued to make trips to Puerto Rico and eventually sold so many products that opening a company to help artisans in developing nations seemed to be the only answer.

Today, you can find over 120 stores in North America which sell from artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

“The Fort Collins store opened in 2000, when members of the Mennonite Church saw the importance of fair trade and supporting individuals in developing nations,” Poppen said.

Every year the church would sell products from the Ten Thousand Villages company as the winter holidays approached and were very successful. They decided a store would thrive in the Fort Collins community, as Fort Collins has a very enlightened and educated niche of people according to Poppens.

“The store is very well received by customers … once we tell them what we are doing they are excited and supportive,” said Vicki Codwell, a store volunteer and board of director member.

Lindsey Earl,  a CSU alumna and former environmental sociology major, volunteered at the store for a semester. She said it was an incredible experience because everyone who was working wanted to be there, share their knowledge and how they valued fair trade.

“We would really talk with each customer not only about where the product came from, but also the process it took to get here,” Earl said. “Customers would understand that those in developing nations were creating a product and receiving equitable pay back for their work.”

The non-profit store has worked to promote the culture of developing nations. This allows individuals who may have been living on the street to pursue artistic business measures to support their families. Poppens said Ten Thousand Villages has given families the chance to stay together in a nuclear family unit.

“Often times when families in developing nations need to make money they must leave their family and go to the city, or often times a different country,” Poppen said. “Ten Thousand Villages supports locals in indigenous areas so they can become recognized for their creative work.”

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According to Poppen, over 75 percent of the artwork is done by women, which helps give women status in developing nations, where they once may have only been known for domestic work.

While the Fort Collins non-profit is primarily focused on supporting those in developing nations, they also find it very important to give back to their own community.

“Every month we allow local non-profits to come into our business on any Monday through Thursday and 10 percent of our profits will go to support theirs,” Poppens said. “The people we are supporting are making beautiful things and our job is to get them into a viable market where we can help them sustain good lives.”

According to Earl, fair trade is important because Western culture is so disconnected from the products we buy to even the food we eat. Fair trade helps bridge that gap, which lets the public learn where products are coming from in an honest manner.

“Fair trade creates equality, equity and gives those in developing nations a chance to seek benefits and unionize in the work place,” Earl said. “The point is for developing countries to be treated fairly rather than just Western nations benefiting from cheap products.”

Collegian Senior Reporter Josephine Bush can be reached at news@collegian.com.