Perspectives: Llenay Ferretti of Ten Thousand Villages
A fair trade retail expert helps generate sustainable impact for 20,000 makers in 30 countries around the globe.
Llenay Ferretti is acting CEO of Ten Thousand Villages, and founder and CEO of Bhavana World Project. She works to bridge the gap between fair trade artisans and United States companies, creating successful and sustainable market access through partnerships within the public and private sectors.
Thank you for taking the time to connect with RUBY readers, Llenay. For those who don’t know, what is Ten Thousand Villages and the mission behind its work?
Ten Thousand Villages is North America’s largest fair trade retailer. It was founded in 1946 by a woman named Edna Ruth Byler. She had traveled to Puerto Rico and met skilled craftswomen in La Plata Valley who were struggling to feed their children. Their handmade embroideries were striking, but they had no place to sell them.
So without a clear plan, but a strong sense of purpose, Edna Ruth brought some of the pieces home with her to sell to her friends. As time went on, she expanded her partnerships to other countries and opened her first shop. Without knowing it, she sparked the global fair trade movement.
Our mission is to create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.
We believe that where there is access to dependable and fair income, there is also the opportunity to live an empowered life of dignity and freedom. When people can plan for their future, afford education, and access medical care then entire communities flourish. This is why we are committed to fair trade standards and ensure that all of our artisan partners are paid a fair wage in a safe workplace.
How can the average person who is inspired by your mission best get involved?
Consumers have incredible power. When we choose to make ethical choices as we shop, we can make a real impact on people, their families and the environment. You can find Ten Thousand Villages stores in communities all over the country or shop online. Every product we sell means we can place more orders with our artisan partners. That leads to more dignified and sustainable employment opportunities for the people who need it most.
As the acting CEO of a large fair trade retailer, what do you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?
As a woman, things will be harder. The challenges that women face are real and documented. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make it any easier for women to be confident in their choices. This is one of the reasons why I am so particularly committed to creating access to employment opportunities for women that are traditionally excluded from the global economy. We need to work together to create space at the table and to amplify each other’s voices.
What is one of the biggest challenges in the fair trade retail industry?
One of the biggest challenges to the fair trade movement is to show consumers how much power they have. Often, when people think of fair trade, they only think of coffee and chocolate. They don’t necessarily realize that the movement was originally started as a way to break the cycle of poverty and create sustainable access to income.
Asking consumers to think about the people who make what they buy isn’t always easy. However, in today’s economy, consumers are starting to shift their thinking. They are looking for a way to shop their values, and to have a positive impact on people and the planet in the process. We are honored to be pioneers of that cultural shift.