Member Highlight: Sam Bills & Ten Thousand Villages

SamTell us a little bit about yourself:
I am single-handedly trying to expand the market for fair trade coffee by enjoying copious amounts of it. Usually while holding a mug I am discussing big ideas and talking about the latest news with the many wonderful people I get to work with and customers I get to be around at Ten Thousand Villages (stores in Pasadena and Redondo Beach).

Sam and FamilyMy favorite person to drink coffee with is my wife, Rosie, and we need all the caffeine we can get to keep up with our four young kids who love a good adventure into the mountains or to the ocean which is still pretty spectacular to my native Midwesterner sensibilities.

How did you hear about fair trade?
In 2006 a friend told me about a plan that was being concocted to open a fair trade store in Pasadena. The concept of business that was developed for the purpose and measured by its effectiveness at creating a more just and equitable world seems so apparent and obvious to me now, but at the time it was a light bulb moment and I knew that I wanted to find a way to be as deeply involved as I could be.

Image by Ten Thousand Villages

When did you first get involved with fair trade?
Ten years ago I started working at first in a part-time role for that new start-up fair trade store and within a year I was working full time with Ten Thousand Villages. Also I began getting involved with the still relatively new Fair Trade LA group as we planned the first fair trade festival in Los Angeles. I met other friends that year who were starting a fair trade soap company called Anti-Body. I met a group of women coffee growers from Nicaragua whose coffee we were just starting to sell in our store. Objectively it seemed like an unexpected turn for me as I finished grad school that year at Fuller Seminary. To me it felt like the culmination of so many of the things I am deeply passionate about and like the most natural and exciting way to fall into something that I wanted to invest significant energy into.

WhatTen Thousand Villages Group is TTV?
Ten Thousand Villages is the oldest and largest retailer of fair trade crafts in the world. We build relationships with social enterprises, co-ops, and entrepreneurs of all types in more than 30 countries and we create a sustainable and long term channel for them to bring their products and stories into our markets. We are organized as local nonprofits that foster ownership and involvement at all levels in our stores with a vision for a fair trade business that is transformational for everyone involved at all points along the way from maker to customer.

What do you enjoy the most about working in fair trade?
The people I work with and the sense that in my day to day bustle I am connecting to a broader movement and a deeper purpose than the limited scope of my own work. I love being with people who care deeply and to sense that we are getting somewhere together.

Image by Ten Thousand Villages.

What is unique about fair trade products?

The products themselves are unique in their handmade idiosyncrasies, and in their quality. For me the product itself is most unique in light of its context. In a mainstream context the market dictates what we buy and when and for how much through the commodification of all products whether they are household goods or agricultural goods. The market plays an important role in fair trade but it seems to me be a different role in that it more facilitates rather than dictates and it is some deeper more human force that brings the product to our market and it is embodied in the sense of connection someone experiences when they purchase an item that has a story and suddenly the product is no longer a commodity but something imbued with meaning and significance.

Fair Trade Fashion ShowDo you have any upcoming events or ways for people to get involved or learn more?
We are celebrating our tenth anniversary in Pasadena in July. We will be holding a massive tent sale in the parking lot behind our store July 21-24 (and in Redondo Beach July 28-31) as part of our month of celebration. We are also looking forward to being a part of the Fair Trade Fashion show with The Peace Exchange and Bead & Reel on July 16. And of course our two local Ten Thousand Villages stores are open seven days a week and it is always a fair trade party in our stores.

July 2016: Happy 10th Anniversary Ten Thousand Villages Pasadena!

Ten Thousand Villages 2

Some of those featured in photo: Senator Jack Scott, Eric Clarke, Sara Clarke, Christine Yap, and Mae Gautier

Written by: Kishani De Silva and Tony Fadale

Ten Thousand Villages (TTV) is one of the ‘oldest and largest fair trade organizations’ in the world. TTV arrived in Pasadena in 2006, and celebrates it’s 10 year Anniversary this July—Congratulations TTV Pasadena!

The story started when Eric and Sara Clarke, along with another couple, decided to start a TTV store locally—the first here in California. “Ten to twelve others came to support them,” recalls Christine Yap, founding member and President of the Board. Yap also recalls how amazed she was at how willing they were “to volunteer their time and give their money away, all in the cause and support of fair trade.” She remembers they were strangers, ranging from ages 8-78, from different backgrounds, yet interestingly with a shared faith. The store continues to thrive and has become a much loved entity along the urban fabric of the Lake Avenue shopping district.

Artisan 1It features artisan-crafted products for the home, personal accessories and gift items from more than 130 fair trade groups based in 38 countries around the world.Product 2

In these ten years, Ten Thousand Villages’ influence on the fair trade world has been felt in the larger Los Angeles area. In fact, four years ago, using his experience and retail savvy, Sam Bills, Executive Director, made sure a fledgling group of fair trade advocates in Redondo Beach received encouragement to pursue their dream of opening the second TTV store in California. The effort to raise money, and work through many other start up challenges, was closely supported by Sam and the Pasadena store’s Board of Directors. Thanks to them the Redondo Beach store is about to celebrate its second year in existence. So much of their success is owed to the Pasadena store’s growing influence and Sam Bills’ leadership. Fair Trade LA wishes TTV all the best!