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“Therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Rom. 13:10

Who makes the shirts?

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.”

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