Emily King of Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages is a fair trade retailer of artisan-crafted home decor, personal accessories and gift items from across the globe. Located in Downtown Champaign, Ten Thousand Villages features products from more than 130 artisan groups in some 38 countries.


How long has Ten Thousand Villages been open in Downtown Champaign?

33 years this fall. We opened in September 1985 in the Traction Building downtown and purchased our current building in fall 1987.

What’s your role at the store and what’s a typical day like?

I’m Store Manager. And there is no typical day! Some of my biggest roles at work include visual merchandising, buying, advertising, and record keeping. The one constant in my day is contact with volunteers. We have two volunteers at the store per day and I always try to take time to say hello and connect with them.

How did you get into Fair Trade work?

I grew up volunteering at this store with my family. We would come from Danville every Christmas to volunteer and shop. My mom started volunteering here eighteen years ago and then managed the store for seven years. By the time I went to college I knew I wanted to work in fair trade. I enjoy using business skills to make a global impact.

What’s your favorite item on the floor right now?

I can’t pick favorites! But I can tell you about groupings of items I personally connect with. A few years ago I had the opportunity to go to Kenya – I connect with many of the items we have that are made in workshops there because I can hear the voices of the people who made them. We also carry a line of jewelry made from bomb casings leftover from the Vietnam War in Cambodia. It’s wonderful to see something that’s a symbol of destruction and turning it into a symbol of hope. And it’s beautiful!

What’s your biggest seller?

We sell more jewelry and personal accessories than anything else. Though small home accents and kitchen items are a close second! Right now, 4 of our top 10 sellers are tea towels from India and Egypt.

What do you wish more people knew about your store?

I wish people knew that we’re a mission-based business and a nonprofit organization run by volunteers. People are at the core of what we do. We have 35 volunteers from all over the community. And we consider ourselves storytellers about the people and countries behind the products we sell. When people shop here they are not only supporting a local business but also the global economy.

What do you enjoy most about working downtown?

The food is great! And I love the community we have with other downtown retailers in our neighborhood.


Follow Ten Thousand Villages on Facebook at @tenthousandvillageschampaign and on Instagram at @tenthousandvillages.


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