I have often mentioned in this blog that I work for Ten Thousand Villages, the greatest store in the world. Yesterday I had the privilege of attending part of the annual national conference, where I learned a lot about what really goes in this company - and why it's okay that I feel awesome for being part of it.
Have you ever heard of fair trade? If you know what it is, you know what a good thing it is. The reason TTV is so special isn't because they're a fair trade retailer - it's because this is the company that started fair trade.
Of course, if you don't know what it is, then this is lost on you, so let me explain. Fair trade is an economic partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, which seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system. That's in my notes from yesterday. To break it down better, I'll explain that when we sell stuff from around the world, we cut out any middlemen who could be shaving off a chunk of the profits by dealing directly with the artisans themselves. They receive a fair price, negotiated between themselves and our buyers; they receive half of the money up front (so they can buy raw materials and stuff) and the other half when they deliver the product. Whenever you buy something from a Ten Thousand Villages store or on our website, the artisan has already been paid for what you're getting. This is great because if you have a coupon, or something gets broken in shipment, or anything like that, it doesn't hurt the artisan's profits.
We can guarantee that no child or slave labor went into the manufacture of our products, because we only deal with artisan groups who employ neither practice. Our long-term relationships with our artisans ensure that our knowledge of how they operate is accurate. We also only work with artisan groups who provide equal pay for men and women, offer safe working conditions for their employees, and are environmentally responsible in their practices. Most of our artisan groups go well beyond these basic ground rules in how well they treat their employees, but this is the minimum that our company requires.
Fair trade is not the same thing as free trade. Free trade is a completely different concept, which involves not paying governmental taxes or fees.
These were some of the things I learned at yesterday's conference. National Workshops, as it's called, is a five-day event that's mainly for the managers of all of our stores all across the country. They gather in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is close to the main warehouse and offices of Ten Thousand Villages. (Yeah, this is a Pennsylvania company. We were actually founded by a member of the Mennonite Church.) Because my store is less than a two-hour drive from the workshops, my manager was able to arrange for the assistant manager and myself to drive down for one day. I went in order to attend the sessions about social media and marketing, since I handle a lot of that stuff for our store - our mailing list, Facebook, that sort of thing. I also compose a lot of our store's custom emails, so it was a real nice ego boost to be introduced to people who were already familiar with my work and liked it. Everyone I met was extremely friendly and I felt like if I could have sat down to have a long conversation with any one of them, I would have learned a lot.
Sadly, only being there for one day sort of prevented that. But I did learn a lot nonetheless. I came away from the social media workshops with some energized new ideas for promoting our store, and I got to hear plenty about the company's learning tour from earlier this year. Every year, TTV organizes a trip to visit one or two of the countries which are home to our artisan groups; this year's tour was to India and Bangladesh. We got to see slides of the trip and hear stories that made us both laugh and cry.
Another annual tradition is to bring one or two artisans over to America each year to attend the National Workshops. This year we were able to meet with Moses and Esther Kirimi, a married couple from Kenya who are part of the artisan group OTICART International. They demonstrated their woodcraft and talked to us about life in Kenya. As part of the closing ceremonies last night, our CEO, Doug Dirks, presented the Kirimis with gifts made by other TTV artisans.
There was a two-hour break between the final panel and dinner (by the way, the food at the hotel where the conference was held was so good), so my managers and a couple other TTV people and I drove to the Rockvale Outlets in Lancaster to visit our sister store there. I got some more of the discontinued oatmeal and rosemary shea butter soap that I love so very very much.
Jen (my assistant manager) and I left after dinner, so we missed the presentation of awards to various stores; we still had to make the long drive home. But I'm so glad I went, and if the opportunity comes up for me to go again another year you can bet I will be there. In the meantime, though, I'm just so pleased to be part of this company.