Sweat-Free T-shirts

Sweat-Free Ts logoAltogether, we Presbyterians print a lot of T-shirts. Unfortunately, almost all of the apparel readily available to us in stores was produced in sweatshops. The good news is that sweatshop-free shirts are available from the PC(USA), ready to print with your group’s logo or design. Whether you’re creating shirts for your youth group, upcoming mission trip, presbytery summer camp, congregational celebration or special event, put your faith in practice by choosing Sweat-Free Ts!

The Sweat-Free Ts are produced by a women’s sewing cooperative in Nicaragua. Together the members own and operate the cooperative as a small business, thanks in part to support from the One Great Hour of Sharing. They even built their building with their own hands! Learn more about the women by reading their story (click on “Who makes the shirts?” tab above) .


Why sweat-free?

Sweat-Free Ts is inspired by our biblical faith and call to discipleship — as well as growing consumer demand within the modern-day garment industry for responsibly sourced products. “Clean clothes” and antisweatshop campaigns have also helped shape our work. Advocates in many places are encouraging manufacturers to produce goods in ways that respect the dignity, safety and rights of workers. There are many ways concerned Presbyterians can support our sisters and brothers in Christ who work hard on the production end of the garment chain.


Get the shirts

Sweat-Free Ts come direct from the Nueva Vida Women’s Sewing Cooperative in Nicaragua. The co-op was created with the assistance of Center for Development in Central America, with seed money provided by the One Great Hour of Sharing and distributed by the Presbyterian Hunger Program.


Who makes Sweat-Free Ts?

Sweat-Free Ts come direct from the Nueva Vida Women’s Sewing Cooperative in Nicaragua. Together the members own and operate the cooperative as a small business. The co-op was created with the assistance of the Center for Development in Central America, thanks to seed money provided by the One Great Hour of Sharing and distributed by the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Our denominational partnership and individual purchases build on this previous support and allow the cooperative to continue growing, expanding both their products and their benefits of employment within the community.

Woman handling a T-shirt

Yadira Vallejos explains the process of making Sweat-Free T-shirts. Here she demonstrates the machine used to sew collars into the shirts. Photo by Melanie Hardison.

Sweat-Free Ts come direct from the Nueva Vida Women’s Sewing Cooperative  in Nicaragua, a member of the World Fair Trade Organization. Together the members own and operate the cooperative as a small business. The co-op was created with the assistance of the Center for Development in Central America, thanks to seed money provided by the One Great Hour of Sharing and distributed by the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Our denominational partnership and individual purchases build on this previous support and allow the cooperative to continue growing, expanding both their products and their benefits of employment within the community.

The cooperative’s women (and a few men) are significant pioneers and sources of inspiration within the movement for alternatives to sweatshops. They even built their building with their own hands!

In 2005 they became the first worker-owned Free Trade Zone in the world, providing a viable alternative to sweatshops and “working together to create sustainable employment in the community so that we can support ourselves and our families.”


Faith, Hope and Love: The Story of Sweat-Free T-shirts from Nicaragua

When Hurricane Mitch swept through Nicaragua in 1998, many families lost their homes and were forced to re-locate. Just outside the capitol city of Managua, a new community called Nueva Vida (“New Life”) was created. Today Nueva Vida is part of the most densely populated area in Nicaragua — and Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. The local government can spend only $2.30 per person per year on essential services such as health care, education, infrastructure and waste removal.

To address the high unemployment rate in Nueva Vida (80%), the local Center for Development in Central America worked with the community to improve their economic conditions. Out of these efforts the Neuva Vida women’s sewing cooperative was born.


Hear the voices of the women who sew Sweat-Free Ts

People digging post holes

The original group of co-op members worked for 640 hours constructing the building and organizing the co-op. For over two years they each worked 20 hours/week without pay as sweat-equity buy-in to the cooperative. Photo courtesy of Enough for Everyone.

“In Nicaragua there are many free trade zones where mainly women work in sweatshops producing clothing under horrible labor conditions, long hours and poor pay. In a cooperative, the workers are the owners. We are working together to create sustainable employment in the community so that we can support ourselves and our families.

“We have had to make many sacrifices for the cooperative — for two years we worked without earning a salary of any kind. We, the members, built the building with our own hands… Despite [our hardships], we continued to work with the cooperative. Our hope is that each day will be better than the last.

“Our biggest hope for the cooperative is that we find new markets for our products and that our down times become shorter as we have steady work coming in.

We, the members of  Nueva Vida Women’s Sewing Cooperative, have the hope of raising our production level to a point where we can pay back our debt as soon as possible and in that way become the legitimate owners of our cooperative. We want to expand to generate more employment for other families and to generate more earnings in order to be able to put a percentage of our profits toward social projects such as homes for the elderly, children’s feeding centers, rehabilitation houses for drug addicts and schools.

As a maquila, we specialize in producing T-shirts for export. Our tees are of highest quality and are made of organic or conventional 100% cotton cloth. We are one of the only maquilas in the world currently producing ‘clean’ tees made with nonsweatshop labor. We are a fully equipped sew shop and guarantee that all of our products are ethically made by the worker-owners in our cooperative.”

Sweat-Free Ts is inspired by our biblical faith and call to discipleship — as well as growing consumer demand within the modern-day garment industry for responsibly sourced products. “Clean clothes” and anti-sweatshop campaigns have also helped shape our work. Advocates in many places are encouraging manufacturers to produce goods in ways that respect the dignity, safety and rights of workers. There are many ways concerned Presbyterians can support our sisters and brothers in Christ who work hard on the production end of the garment chain.

Since all of our actions — including our consumer purchases — reflect our faith and values, each purchase we make supports either the sweatshop industry or the growing number of innovative companies and cooperatives that abstain from sweatshop labor and have committed themselves to sweat-free values. Purchasing garments from responsible manufacturers, companies and cooperatives not only sends the message that we support their principles — it reflects our faith in a God and who promises that a better world is possible.


Our primary partner

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s primary partner in Sweat-Free Ts is the women’s sewing cooperative (Fair Trade Zone) in Nueva Vida, Nicaragua. These women (and a few men) are significant pioneers and sources of inspiration within the movement for alternatives to sweatshops. Our partnership and individual purchases help build on the support the co-op received previously through One Great Hour of Sharing and the Presbyterian Hunger Program. The PC(USA) Sweat-Free T program warehouses and distributes their T-shirts for use in the PC(USA) — whether it be in a congregation, camp, youth group or conference. (To date Presbyterians have purchased more than 95,000 T-shirts!)

The PC(USA) also provides opportunities for Presbyterians and co-op members to meet face-to-face and develop relationships. Twice the Presbyterian Hunger Program has supported co-op leaders’ travel to the United States on speaking tours to local congregations and special events. The Presbyterian Hunger Program also sponsors delegations to Nicaragua so that Presbyterians can experience the cooperative (and fair trade coffee cooperatives) firsthand and bring their stories home.


Sweat-free principles

The following are examples of sweat-free principles:

  • Workers receive a fair living wage and benefits.
  • Working conditions are just, including:
    • Freedom from excessive working hours and forced labor in all its forms.
    • Freedom from physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
    • Protection from workplace health and safety hazards.
    • Children are not subject to working conditions that jeopardize their physical, psychological, or intellectual development.
    • Women are neither discriminated against nor harassed.
    • All workers are free to organize and negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

The Nueva Vida sewing cooperative not only meets but surpasses Sweat-Free principles because the members of the cooperative own the business themselves, and as such are worker-owners, setting their own policies and procedures, and defining their own goals and plans for the future of their business and their lives.

photo of T-shirts in a packing box

White children’s tees get unpacked and ready for shipping to Presbyterians. (Photo by Melanie Hardison)

Sweat-Free tees come direct from the Nueva Vida Women’s Sewing Cooperative and Fair Trade Zone in Nicaragua. The co-op was created with the assistance of Center for Development in Central America with seed money provided by the One Great Hour of Sharing and distributed by the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

The shirts: High-quality, 100 percent organic cotton tees come blank and ready to print with your group’s logo or design. Only the Sweat-Free logo is preprinted in black on the sleeve. Colors available through Presbyterian Distribution Service (PDS) are white, natural and royal blue (“Presbyterian blue”).

Shirt sizes: child small, child medium, child large, adult small, adult medium, adult large, adult X-large, adult XX-large, adult XXX-large. (Presbyterian Blue Shirts Out of Stock: adult small, adult medium, adult XX-large. Natural Shirts Out of Stock: adult small, adult large, adult X-large, adult XX-large.)


Order by phone:

1. Call PDS at (800) 524-2612.

2. Request the PDS Item Number corresponding to the color shirt you want.

  • For white shirts ($8.00 each): PDS #74360-03-332 + size
  • For natural shirts ($8.00 each): PDS #74365-05-332 + size
  • For royal blue shirts ($9.00 each): PDS #74365-06-332 + size

3. Have the following information ready when you call:

  • The quantities and sizes you need. (Sweat-Free T-shirts are now available at a discount of 20 percent when you order 50 shirts or more. When ordering by phone, your discount will be automatically entered by the customer service representative.)
  • The address where you would like the shirts shipped. (Shirts can be shipped to your local screen printer.)
  • The date by which you need your shirts. (Rush orders are possible but will involve extra shipping costs.)

Order online:

1. Order here, and have the following info ready:

2. PDS Item Numbers (see #2 above). To specify sizes, type in the PDS number you want, and follow it with our sizing codes. (Example: To order Natural color in Adult XL, you would key 74365-05-332-XL)

  • Child small = CS
  • Child medium = CM
  • Child large = CL
  • Adult small = S
  • Adult medium = M
  • Adult large = L
  • Adult XL = XL
  • Adult XXL = XXL
  • Adult XXXL = XXXL
a tag from a t-shirt

Brand new Presbyterian Blue T-shirts feature the cooperative’s own fabric label, complete with their Web site address for further education. (Photo by Melanie Hardison)

Sweat-Free T-shirts are now available at a discount of 20 percent when you order 50 shirts or more. When ordering online enter promo code SFQTY in the Special Instructions field. Discounts will be calculated at the time your order is processed.

For other t-shirt options, try searching Ethix Merch.

(Please note that shirts from these vendors do not come with the Sweat-Free T logo preprinted; contact us if you need an electronic file to print the logo on shirts from these vendors.)

For large quantities, long sleeves or special colors or styles, email the cooperative to inquire about placing an order directly.

The cooperative can also do your screen printing, including placing the Sweat-Free T logo on your sleeve.


Other resources

Download or order the Guide to Fair Trade from Green America.

Download or order the Guide to Ending Sweatshops from Green America.