Nathan Mandsager and Justin Kirker are on a mission to influence the way Americans do business — one T-shirt at a time.
“We want to show people that we as consumers can purchase items that can help other people in the world in the process,” said Mandsager, president and director of international operations for Tension, a Web-based company that sells T-shirts in the United States.
For every T-shirt that Tension sells, one T-shirt will be provided to a member of an impoverished global community. Currently, Tension is supplying T-shirts to help children in Uganda go to school.
“It’s free to go to school in Uganda, but kids have to wear a uniform,” explained Mandsager, 31, an associate minister at Calvary Tabernacle Assembly of God Church in Schenectady.
“Now they will get a T-shirt with their school’s emblem on it, and they will have the ability to go to school where they never did before — especially in Third World countries where education is key to their survival and gives them hope for something different for themselves and for their communities.”
The vision that inspired Mandsager was a trip to Uganda to investigate how he could be involved in helping alleviate one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world at the time, caused by an ongoing 21-year rebel war. Since that June 2006 trip, Mandsager has been back to Uganda five times.
This past June at a conference in New York City, the dream that started Tension became a reality.
Mandsager gathered a few friends who knew something about business, shared his vision with them, and got started.
The white, cotton T-shirt, called “Hope Within Reach,” depicts a large, winding, black tree with tiny shirts hanging off the branches. At the base of the tree, a child reaches up to grab a shirt that says “I am loved.”
The shirts sell for $22 and are available on the Web site, www.withintension.com.
“As we grow and develop, we want to have different lines of shirts that have different messages on them,” said Mandsager.
Kirker, 17, a Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School senior and member of Calvary Tabernacle Assembly of God Church, wants to attend the University at Albany and study business.
“One day last June, Nathan called me and said he wanted to have a meeting with me,” Kirker recalled. “We came up with the idea of doing shirts, and I thought it was a great idea.”
They then approached graphic designer Jason McIntosh about designing a shirt.
“We decided to begin in Uganda because I’ve been there five times and built up relationships, especially in the north where there has been a war going on for over 20 years,” said Mandsager.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people in the communities and in the displaced camps where so many of the people live. The conditions there are deplorable.
About 1,000 people a week are dying in the camps, and the children are obviously suffering the most.”
Mandsager said he named the organization “Tension” because all people live with some sort of tension.
“Everybody is either broken by tension or overcomes it and moves on to a new place of strength, mobility and strength,” said Mandsager. “So we tied that into this company. So the more shirts we sell, the more kids we can help.”
The shirts that are sold in the United States are made in Ohio. The shirts sold in Uganda are made in Uganda.
“We have a strong trust with the people we are working with, and feel we are helping a lot of people in the process,” said Mandsager.
“Eventually, we’d like to be able to assist other communities and other children around the world. There’s no shortage of poor people in the world. We don’t have all the answers, but we can help some people.”
So far Tension has delivered 100 shirts to children ages 5 to 15 in northern Uganda.
“It’s been a very humbling experience for me to touch and hold these kids and know the dreadful, overwhelming circumstances that they face,” said Mandsager. “And yet with a little bit of hope, they overcome a great deal.”
Kirker, who has been on mission trips to Uganda, Mexico and Bulgaria, said: “It’s really awesome to be part of something that could be so big and help so many people. We want to make people here understand that there is a bigger world out there than just the United States.”
“Not everybody in America can get on an airplane and go to Africa,” added Mandsager. “But they can help. They can buy a T-shirt. It gives you the opportunity to give at least one kid a chance at a different future.”
For information, contact Mandsanger at [email protected] or go to www.withintension.com.