When you shop at Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair trade shop, you are part of a larger story.

“Everything in the store is handcrafted by artisans from third world, developing countries,” says the executive director of Ten Thousand Villages of Cincinnati, Darlene Rohrer-Meck. “We are working with the poorest of the poor who would have no other way of getting their product to market. It’s a place where you can shop and feel good, and know that you’re doing a lot of good for a lot of people.”

And there is no shortage of great products, from decorative to functional. There are accessories like purses, scarves and headbands; home décor pieces; and even some furniture pieces.

Shopping at Ten Thousand Villages is a way to support the artisans and give them an opportunity to earn a fair wage. It puts food on the table and provides stable housing. It also keeps women from trafficking themselves or their children. Many of the women can then also send their children to school when they previously couldn’t. 

“We support artisans from over 30 different developing countries. Most are from Africa and Asia; many are from Bangladesh, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Peru… Those are probably some of our largest volume that we do,” says Rohrer-Meck. 

Ten Thousand Villages has buyers connect with the artisans in the different countries. They sit down, meet with them and discuss what would be a fair wage. Seventy five to 85 percent of the time, the women come back with something way too low. Part of the process is trying to educate these women about what a fair price is and what they should expect to get paid for their work. 

“We pay them 50 percent of that price when we place the order and the other 50 percent when the product is finished before it ever leaves their country. Every country you see [being represented], the artisan has already been paid in full,” says Rohrer-Meck. “There is no way they can afford to wait for their money. When I went to Peru a few years ago, we heard over and over that those advance payments are making a huge difference for them.” 

Ten Thousand Villages works with the artisans long term. Rohrer-Meck says that some of the women’s children have actually been able to go to college because of the income the family is now making, and they’ll report back to them about it. It has also helped in other areas long term like housing.

“Someone pointed out this is the kind of home we lived in beforeit was missing a roof and had a dirt floor. Another home [they had after] they were working with Ten Thousand Villages had a concrete floor and a roof. Some of the improvements in housing is huge,” she says. “We’ve been able to stay connected to these families to see the difference it is making. We have had artisan groups that we’ve worked with for over 50 years.” 

The store celebrated its 70th anniversary in October. 

“We’re the oldest fair trade company here,” Rohrer-Meck says. 

2011 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, and 11316 Montgomery Road, Harper’s Point. tenthousandvillages.com.