Starting point: Mennonite Church recognition of exploitation of poor countries through trade

Organizing Strategy: Sourcing of products where workers are fairly compensated in decent working conditions, marketing in the USA through church sales, and fair return to producers

Tools: Growing into a network of retail stores, primarily in the USA

Outcome: Positive economic return for producers and customer awareness about the impact of their economic choices

As one of the world’s oldest and largest fair trade organizations, Ten Thousand Villages has spent more than 60 years cultivating trading relationships in which artisans receive a fair price for their work and consumers have access to distinctive handcrafted items. We seek to establish long-term buying relationships in places where skilled artisans are under- or unemployed, and in which they lack other opportunities for income. A founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), Ten Thousand Villages sees fair trade as an alternative approach to conventional international trade.


1972 — The first gift and thrift shop selling SELFHELP: Crafts of the World products opens in Bluffton, Ohio.

1976 — Paul Leatherman begins as executive director and takes a year-long trip around the world to meet artisans.

1985 — A self-evaluation prompted a decision that SELFHELP: Crafts of the World should be financially self-sufficient.

1986 — Sales topped $3.6 million; SELFHELP: Crafts of the World moves into the Miller-Hess building in Akron, Pa., to accommodate growth.

1989 — SELFHELP: Crafts of the World helps to found IFAT: The International Fair Trade Association; Paul E. Myers begins as CEO of Ten Thousand Villages.

1996 — SELFHELP: Crafts of the World celebrates its 50th anniversary and changes its name to Ten Thousand Villages.

1997 — Ten Thousand Villages begins to open company stores.

2000 — Ten Thousand Villages was incorporated as an independent nonprofit, charitable organization (501(c)3), wholly owned by MCC.

2006 — Craig Schloneger begins as CEO; Ten Thousand Villages reaches record sales of $20 million, celebrates a growing network of stores in North America, and begins to sell online.

2008 to 2013 — Ten Thousand Villages named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by the Ethisphere Institute and Forbes Magazine.

2012 — Ten Thousand Villages and MCC enter partnership agreement. Ten Thousand Villages is no longer wholly owned by MCC.