October is the 70th anniversary of Ten Thousand Villages nationwide and the downtown Overland Park store at 7947 Santa Fe Drive is celebrating its 16th birthday as well.
The organization has thrived by bringing unique goods made by artisans from around the world to conscientious buyers in the United States.
The emphasis is on fair trade, make sure people are compensated appropriately for their work and striving for environmental sustainability.
“At the end of the day, it’s the way all trade should be,” said Kendra Frink, manager of the Overland Park store. “It’s what consumers want, to think about and make ethical purchases.”
It all started in 1946 when Edna Ruth Byler was in Puerto Rico with her husband who worked for the Mennonite Central Committee.
“Women were making handkerchiefs with not outlet to sell them,” Frink said. “She brought some back to the U.S. and sold them our of her car. It grew into a network of 71 branded stores.”
The 2,300 square-foot Overland Park store is the only Ten Thousand Villages in the Kansas City metropolitan area. There’s also one in Lawrence. Its staffed by 65 volunteers and four paid employees.
“It took a lot of effort and fundraising to open our initial store,” Frink said.
She began managing the store six years ago and described her educational background as idea, an undergraduate degree in anthropology and an MBA.
The shop is stocked with goods from 40 countries throughout the world. And today through Monday a special sales event that represents everything Ten Thousand Villages is about is occurring.
It’s the 13th annual Oriental rug sale by the Bunyaad group. Over 300 oriental rugs handcrafted by 850 families in Pakistan are on sale. The sizes range from 2×3 feet to 10×14 feet, and the colors and patterns are one of a kind.
Following the fair trade principals, all the adults, men and women, receive equal pay and there is no child labor. Prices vary, depending on the number of knots and whether natural dyes are used.
Smaller rugs can be had for $295, while larger 8×10 rugs can cost up to $7,000. These are heirloom rugs however that can last 100 years or longer if properly cared for.
Other events this month include the Overland Park store’s actual birthday, Oct. 16. The first 70 people through the door get a cupcake. And on Oct. 20, there will be a trunk show featuring hand-made accessories from Ecuador including handwoven ponchos.
“The artisans just want to live their lives and provide for their families,” Frink said. “That’s what fair trade wants to do. It provides dignity, not charity, and preserves cultural crafts.”