Fair Trade Your Holidays – Ten Thousand Villages of Greater Cincinnati – C to C: The Commitment to Community Podcast

December 14, 2022

It might be easy to shop online but, this holiday season, consider giving gifts that have an impact around the world! On our latest episode of C to C, we’re talking to Ten Thousand Villages of Greater Cincinnati, a nonprofit, fair trade retailer who’s mission is to create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their handmade products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships. Shop online or visit the four stores in Ohio, including two in Cincinnati at 2011 Madison Road and 11316 Montgomery Road.

Check out the interview below featuring Desiree Johnson, Executive Director/CEO, Ten Thousand Villages of Greater Cincinnati, and board member Lacy Rex, VP, Cyber Strategic Leader, Oswald Companies.




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ROSSI: Hi, this is Gina Rossi and we are back with C to C, the commitment to community podcast from Oswald Companies. Today we are thrilled to welcome Desiree Johnson of Ten Thousand Villages of Greater Cincinnati and our own Lacy Rex of Oswald Companies. How are you both doing today?

JOHNSON: Wonderful. How are you?

REX: Great.

ROSSI: Great. Desiree would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a bit about Ten Thousand Villages of Greater Cincinnati?

JOHNSON: Certainly. So I am the executive director of Ten Thousand Villages in Cincinnati. We are a part of a broader national nonprofit organization, and I oversee our local retail stores that support our mission here in Cincinnati. So we have two locations, as well as doing a lot of community outreach. Speaking events, different things like that. And so I kind of oversee all the pieces of that as it involves our organization.

ROSSI: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. And Lacy, could you introduce yourself and tell us how we crossed paths with Ten Thousand Villages?

REX: Sure. Yeah. So Ten Thousand Villages. I’m board secretary and I’ve been on the board for a few years now and it’s just a terrific organization that I want to make sure that we spread as much of the messaging about as possible.

ROSSI: Great, great. Thank you. And Desiree, what is your calling to this cause what is your connection for what you do here with Ten Thousand Villages?

JOHNSON: Yeah. So I always kind of knew that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. I don’t know what drove me to that, but it was just something I always wanted to do. And my retail experience is the majority of my job history. So finding an organization that pairs a wonderful mission with retail is just it’s very unique. And it also used all of my strengths. So I was amazed to find this organization. And I’ve been with Ten Thousand Villages for almost seven years now.

And in the course of my time with organization, I have just fallen more and more in love with the mission, the stories we hear about the artisans and how partnership with them and granting them access to North American markets just transforms their lives. Fair wages is something we take for granted a little bit in our country and for these folks it’s life changing. And so it’s really been eye opening for me to see how these connections really make a difference around the world and it’s changed my perspective of things and in a major way.

ROSSI: Definitely. And you know, from a target market and a range of programs and services, how would you paint a picture of your organization? What is the history of your organization and what’s next?

JOHNSON: Ten Thousand Villages as a national organization has been around for almost 80 years now and it really started super grass roots, just a woman who went to Puerto Rico and she’s seen these women artisans who were super talented but had no market for their items and it just grew from there. And so it’s really about finding these people who have so many skills and amazing artistic talents to begin with that just have no place to sell them for a fair price. They’re used to going to local markets or selling to tourists and having to haggle and lower their prices to a place where it’s below a living wage, and so we’re able to come to them and assure them of the value and what they’re doing and how wanted and needed it is around the world.

So Ten Thousand Villages works in about 30 different countries around the world, Africa, Asia, Central and South America and our goal is to make sure that they have financial security, clean, safe working conditions. They’re paid 50% up front and then 50% when the product shifts. So even if something happens to the product in transit, they don’t take any hit on that financially, they still are paid and compensated for all of the beautiful work that they have done.

JOHNSON: Locally in the United States, Ten Thousand Villages nationally runs stores throughout the country, kind of in different areas, not always in the big cities but in the places where there’s a local community support for that type of organization. And I think there’s about 35 stores right now across the country.

ROSSI: Wow, that’s amazing. And you know our Oswald Cincinnati office did a day of caring, volunteering with you guys back in September. Lacy, could you tell us a little bit about this day and your other experiences with Ten Thousand Villages?

REX: We volunteered during the rug event, which is one of my favorite events, just to see the beautiful rugs. We bring them in, in partnership with another organization. Desiree probably could do more justice than I can in discussing it, with gorgeous rugs that are made by artists and paid a fair wage.

So it’s really just amazing to see the rugs and just hear the story behind them and how long it takes you know, say a family of five to make a rug or something like that. I bought one of the rugs a few years ago. It still looks stunning and has worn so much better than all the other cheaper rugs that I have in my house. So I would love to eventually replace all of them. But, you know, at Ten Thousand Villages in Cincinnati, we have volunteers regularly, the rug event is one of those events where we can have the group come in. But, you know, we have a great group of volunteers and we’re always looking for volunteers to help augment the staff, especially since we are a nonprofit organization.

ROSSI: Thank you for sharing that. And you know Desiree from a diversity, equity, and inclusion side. Could you please talk about your efforts, commitments or the role your organization plays within your community?

JOHNSON: In the Cincinnati community, we obviously we like to partner with a lot of local nonprofit organizations. We do product drives. We do fundraising events and we try to reach out to groups all across the city. Our community, though, is really a global community. And so we always see the greatest diversity in what we’re doing all around the world and working with artisans who in many parts of the world, women and the disabled are really treated as second class citizens and they’re not considered employable in these countries.

And so the fact that we are able to employ them and we have groups, we have a group, for example, called Silence, that are all deaf and mute individuals who would otherwise not be able to find employment. We also have a group of Muslim and Christian men who work together in Pakistan, which is a part of the world where people with different religious beliefs typically do not get along. And so through the work that these artisans are doing, we’re really able to reach a diverse group of people because it’s not about who they are, what they look like. It’s about supporting their families with their handicrafts. And so that’s really the angle that we come at and we see everybody as part of our big global family. It’s really helped build a lot of bridges through fair trade.

ROSSI: Definitely. Thank you. And you know, the holidays are here. What unique gifts can people find at Ten Thousand Villages?

JOHNSON: I’m glad you asked, because right now our stores are just packed with so many wonderful things. This time of year we have all of our amazing nativities and ornaments which are super unique, very different than things that you would see in other stores this time of year, but we have everything from fair trade chocolate and coffee and food items to amazing jewelry made out of recycled fabrics and recycled metals. That is very traditional techniques but also very modern and on-trend, our organization does a great job of trying to stay on trend with those things while working with artisans.

We have great kitchen items, excellent hostess gifts, so bread, baskets and serving utensils and amazing potholders and trivets and things like that that you can gift really well at the holidays. We have clothing, we have things for kids, great global books that share the message of different countries and different religions as well.

So we really run the gamut of a lot of different things, but people definitely think of us at the holidays for gift giving because we know the story behind every single piece in our store and we can print that and give that to you with any gift so that the person who is receiving the gift also knows how the journey that this item has gone on and how they are now playing a part in this person’s story.

ROSSI: I love that. I’m definitely going to check that out.

REX: It really opened my eyes when I joined the board in Ten Thousand Villages, just the importance of what you purchased and where it comes from. It’s so easy to go and buy something on Amazon. But you know the story behind it and the people behind it.

It’s really sad when you learn about where those products actually come from. So it’s made me a more conscientious buyer and a more deliberate buyer, less impulsive, but one of the things is I can go in Ten Thousand Villages and shop confidently and understand that everything in this store has been made ethically and the folks making it have been paid a fair wage.

Also, one of the things I like to do is just buy the kitchen towels and use those if you’re taking a bottle of wine as a hostess gift, wrap that and then you have a really nice wrapping and you don’t have to go purchase a disposable bag too. So it’s just a little bit more ecofriendly. So that’s one of my hacks that I like to do.

ROSSI: Yes, that’s a great idea.

Desiree and Lacy, you both could probably answer. What are some ways people can get more involved? And what would you like to see more of in the future?

JOHNSON: So, as Lacy mentioned, volunteering is a huge way to support our organization. We have a very small number of paid staff. It is a way to keep our focus on the items that we are purchasing from the artisans. As well as people can follow us online, we have Ten Thousand Villages in Cincinnati is our Facebook page. You can like and share things on there. Those are free ways to support us that help spread the mission. On Instagram, we’re villages underscore cinci.

If you are not local, you can shop online at Ten Thousand Villages slash Cincinnati and then the portion of the proceeds do support our local stores here as well. Shopping, spreading the word is the biggest way that people hear about our stores is through word of mouth and so sharing that information, if you come in and you shop, you know, hey, I found this cool shop and it’s doing a lot of good for people. That is the biggest way that we do our marketing. And so if you can come in or if you can help spread the word, we love that either way.

ROSSI: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much again, Desiree and Lacy for your time today and for sharing your story.

JOHNSON: Thank you so much for having us.

REX: Yes. Thank you.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and web formatting.

Introducing the C to C podcast, an oscast by Oswald production

Commitment to Community is a core value of Oswald; it’s the foundation of who we are and the purpose behind all we do. The C to C podcast provides a platform for nonprofit partners to share their stories and discuss the critical issues facing their clients. Our goal: create a halo effect of service and support, inspiring our audiences to align with causes that speak to them and take action in their companies and communities.

Hosted by Gina Rossi, digital communications manager, this podcast series features in-depth interviews and highlights the good works happening throughout our communities.