Every item for sale at Ten Thousand Villages has a story, and Kristine Ashwood knows them all.
As the store’s executive director, she believes it’s important to remember the artisan behind each piece.
“That’s what we’re able to do,” she said. “Connect the artisan with the consumer.”
Ten Thousand Villages, part of a national network of non-profit, fair-trade retailers, re-opened Oct. 16 in Shoppes of Kildaire after 20 years at Cameron Village Shopping Center in Raleigh.
At the heart of the store’s mission is a commitment to global fair trade and providing economic opportunities worldwide. Artisans are paid a fair price for their goods and receive 50 percent upfront.
“Not everybody knows how to get out of poverty,” Ashwood said.
“That’s the biggest element of fair trade,” she said. “Don’t stick the artisan with having to get a micro loan.”
When the order is loaded onto a ship, the remainder of the payment is made.
“Should the ship sink, the artisans still have been paid,” she said.
Ten Thousand Villages helps artisans set a fair price for their goods based on the real cost of production.
“They tend to err on the side of not asking enough,” she said.
Artisans come from more than 30 countries, most with backgrounds of poverty or abuse. The shop’s best sellers are sari throws that are handmade in Bangladesh by women who have escaped human trafficking.
An exhaustive search for a new location ended when Ashwood made several visits to the Cary shopping center.
“I came over here three days in a row at different times,” she said. “What I saw was a community and the feeling of a neighborhood. I knew this was going to be a really good spot for us.”
She notes that two-thirds of the customers at the Raleigh location came from West Raleigh and Cary, and she expects the proximity to Trader Joe’s to drive traffic to the store. The smaller space has the added benefit of reduced overhead costs, she said.
Six paid staff and 40 volunteers keep the Cary store running. Some of them have been involved with the store for decades.
“Once you’re hooked, you’re kind of hooked,” Ashwood said.
Ten Thousand Villages is able to market goods far beyond what the artisans can do on their own. When the Hunt Library opened at N.C. State University, 400 sets of onyx bookends from Pakistan were ordered.
“Think what a boon that was for the artisans,” Ashwood said.
With two to four shipments a week, new items are routinely added to the store’s inventory.
The upcoming holiday season is reflected in the merchandise. There are 63 nativities from 14 countries, including those made of olive wood by artisans in the West Bank. Ornaments from around the world are also on display.
The artisans’ plights are never far from Ashwood’s mind. She tells of a group of Ugandans who were kicked out of their village after being raped and infected with HIV. They make baskets that are popular among customers at Ten Thousand Villages.
“Imagine how it must feel to know you’re not alone,” she said.
Ashwood, who has been the executive director for four years, said she is grateful for a job that has meaning.
“We have fun, but there are hard issues behind it,” she said.
About Ten Thousand Villages
Location: 1357 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary
Contact: 919-377-2700, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday.