Walking down Government Street in Victoria, I gravitated to the store. Its African colours and Indian textures called to me. With a name like Ten Thousand Villages I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see items from local villages of Kenya and India. But I was. Sometimes you respond to an experience emotionally – on instinct – before your brain kicks in and offers to contextualize it for you.
I saw a pile of colourful saris, and on top of it a write up on how they were recycled saris patched and prepared by a women’s group in Bangladesh. The wall facing it was mirrored with Kenya’s shiny beads and stones. In the back room there were Tanzanian wood carvings, and as I walked out the store I saw on my left a shelf weighed down with Kenyan soapstone. My eye was clearly drawn to the items that held strongest familiarity; I am no longer surprised by how that happens.
The product related story that was perhaps most touching was on Cambodian bombshell jewellery – symbolic jewellery (like the dove of peace) developed by refugees using discarded bombshells. Such a poignant statement of what is wrong with this world, and how some pockets of humanity are trying to transform a legacy of war and suffering into peace and hope.
Strangely my first logical thought was of the small businesses I knew in Kenya – ones I had interviewed, like Ecosandals – who could benefit from this kind of positioning and market access.
The prices however were exorbitant. And so my second thought was whether the profits actually reached the communities who had outstretched their hands for support, or whether they just lined the pockets of a business that had the capital and networks to make a substantial profit.
But I loved the idea. A true example of globalization if well executed. A chance to promote cultural artefacts in a global marketplace while benefiting the impoverished communities who create them.
“A product is not just a thing for sale. It is art with a human touch deep inside.” – Ten Thousand Villages brochure