Fair trade rug event weaves together global community, supports Pakistani artisans


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Ten Thousand Villages’ fair trade rug event featured high-quality, handmade rugs by Bunyaad artisans.

Lily Carey, Newsletter Editor

Sorting through piles of rugs, Yousaf Chaman stopped to focus on one in particular. Its vibrant hues and livestock patterns reminded him of a place he had been before: a village in the Pakistani countryside, home to the very shepherds and artisans who had produced the rug.

Handmade rugs like this one can be hard to find in the United States. But at Ten Thousand Villages’ annual rug event in Evanston, customers can find hundreds of rugs crafted by Pakistani artisans, each one with a unique design.

“(Artisans) create rugs based on what they grow, and it helps their economy, it helps their livelihood but also helps the environment where they live,” Chaman said. “Fair trade is much more than just three meals on the table … it’s about opening doors for the future generation.”

Now in its 20th year, the rug event — lasting through Oct. 3 at Ten Thousand Villages’ Chicago Ave. location — is hosted in partnership with Bunyaad, an organization working with artisans in Pakistan to sell their rugs globally.

Chaman, Bunyaad’s director, said the organization aims to preserve the cultural heritage of Pakistani rug-making. It collaborates with nearly 850 families in more than 100 villages across Pakistan.

As a fair trade store, Ten Thousand Villages prioritizes paying its artisans fairly and promptly, according to its website. For Cheryl Nester-Detweiler, co-manager of the store’s Evanston location, this event is all about supporting artisans’ work. 

“Fair trade is a long-term commitment, so (we’re) working with artisans year after year,” Nester-Detweiler said. “When (artisans are) guaranteed a job that allows them to save money, they can start thinking about educating their children or getting a better house. The longevity of having a job makes a huge difference.”

Nester-Detweiler emphasized that promoting fair trade practices is central to Ten Thousand Villages’ mission. She said the store sells goods from between 30 and 40 different countries, aiming to provide artisans worldwide with a steady source of income.

Evanston resident Mary Clark, who said she recently bought a rug from artisans in Mexico, stopped by Ten Thousand Villages to see their selection of fair trade goods.

“I love rugs and, because this is a fair trade event, I thought I’d see what’s here,” Clark said. “There are a lot of people doing this kind of work that are not getting paid for their work.”

Environmental sustainability is also crucial to Bunyaad’s mission, Chaman said. 

Artisans create their rugs using natural dyes and wool from their own sheep — which Chaman has seen firsthand during his trips to visit them in Pakistan.

“When you’re in a village, you’re there to talk, and people really come together,” Chaman said of his experiences seeing villagers lay out their work in community rooms. “It teaches you more about yourself than anything else.”

Yet due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, as well as recent flooding that devastated the Pakistani countryside, Chaman has not visited the country since before the pandemic. 

With floodwaters potentially destroying villagers’ material possessions and increasing risk of disease in rural villages,providing artisans with a source of income is crucial, Chaman added.

“(With) all these artisan groups, we are sharing ideas, sharing information, learning from each other at the same time,” Chaman said. “Some groups are working in Ghana, some are working in Kenya, some are working in Nepal. But in the end, the goal is the same.”

The tight-knit fair trade community even connects people within the United States. Chaman, who met Nester-Detweiler nearly 25 years ago through her work at Ten Thousand Villages, said he has found “like-minded people” at fair trade stores across the country.

This rang especially true for Candace Lucas, a 20-year Skokie resident who recently moved to North Carolina. 

During a trip to visit friends and family in the Evanston area, she stopped in at Ten Thousand Villages to reconnect with a meaningful place for her.

“I like supporting Ten Thousand Villages, and I really identify with their goals and what they stand for,” Lucas said. “It really holds a special place in my heart.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilylcarey

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