Why Ten Thousand Villages is the Future of Sustainability

Is it just me, or is the ethical fashion movement blowing up right now? Everywhere you turn brands are embracing more ethical practices from Versace forgoing  fur, Fendi training teenagers in traditional craftsmanship and Everlane banning new plastic from its line. It’s amazing! People are pioneering new eco-friendly fabrics thanks to innovations in science. Lab grown leather is a real thing people and I’m here for it.

With all this talk of new this and new that though, I find myself curious as to the history of sustainable fashion. It’s easy to get caught up in the shiny new thing, but that often means neglecting the wisdom of the past. You see, it wasn’t so long ago, that all things were made sustainably. People grew their own fiber (or raised it), spun their own thread, wove their own fabric, and sewed that into a garment. They held onto their clothes and treated them with respect, because everyone knew exactly how much work went into them.

Photo by  Kara McCurdy

Photo by Kara McCurdy

There was a wisdom that you earned by being a part of every aspect of your clothing production. You learned stewardship of the land, how to read the seasons, and developed gratitude to the animal or land that provided the thing that kept you warm through the bitterest of winters. We were connected to the Earth and so we didn’t need slogans or hashtags to remind us to take care her. We knew that if we looked out for Earth, she’d look out for us, and so we did it. Wisdom was also passed down through the generations. Sitting at your mother’s knee you’d learn not only how to spin and knit, but about life. Producing something was so much more than the final product it was a means of personal growth.

In an effort to make sustainable fashion cool, too many brands are turning their backs on the wisdom of our foremothers. Real progress is not shunning what came before us, but updating and integrating it into our modern styling. That’s why I love how Ten Thousand Villages is staying current with the times.

You probably know Ten Thousand Villages, they were founded in 1946 by a woman named Edna Ruth Byler. After a trip to Puerto Rico, Byler was struck by the gorgeous needlework the women there produced, and the poverty in which they lived. They needed somewhere to sell their goods, so she brought them back to the states where she sold them out of the trunk of her car. From such humble beginnings a true legacy was born.

Since then they’ve continued to sell goods from around the world that showcase traditional crafts. Sculptures from Kenya, jewelry from Peru, and throws from India. Each item beautiful in its design and powerful in its history.

Photo by  Kara McCurdy

Photo by Kara McCurdy

But Ten Thousand Villages hasn’t let history stand still, they’ve taken all the knowledge and wisdom of their maker partners and translated it into fresh designs perfect for the modern American aesthetic.

I especially love their new minimalist jewelry line. It’s chic enough to be in any high-end boutique, but still creates lasting change in the lives of their artisans. Another personal favorite are this nubby-knit alpaca hat and sky stone ring, both from Peru. As a descendant of the indigenous peoples of Latin America and a hand-knitter myself it’s as if these products were made for me. I wear my hat with pride, and as I weave my way through the hustle and bustle of NYC, I carry with me a constant calming reminder of my ancestors. They’re there, on my head, keeping me warm and safe all these miles and centuries later. It’s a beautiful feeling.

Photo by  Kara McCurdy

Photo by Kara McCurdy

The ring too is a gentle reminder of my foremothers. It’s made of chrysocolla, a stone valued by the Aztecs and Incas and often worn by the wise women of the tribe. The ring was prized as a stone of wisdom, and was said to teach compassion and that true strength came from gentleness. It’s a stone of the goddess. Forever ancient and modern at once.

Together these two pieces keep my one foot grounded in the past and the other reaching far ahead into the future. This duality is the only way the sustainable fashion movement can once again become the norm. If we only focus on the new, but forget our roots, we will lose the wisdom of our grandmothers. We will lose the ability to think about sustainability long term, and only focus on the new shiny trend. And then sustainable fashion will become just that, another trend, taken up with such fervor only to be forgotten as the next wave of trends crashes over us.

As I look around at all the new brands jumping on the sustainable bandwagon, I am happy to know they’re finally waking up, but these johnny come-latelys aren’t necessarily going to get my business. I choose to spend my money with brands who’ve been here since the beginning. For the last 72 years, Ten Thousand Villages, has been bringing the world to our doorstep in an ethical way. I’m going to stick with them as they continue to innovate the sustainable model for the next 72 years and beyond.

I was paid for services rendered and received free product for compensation. But like for realsies, I would never accept a job unless I really loved a company.

Benita Robledo1 Comment