Two Wellington sisters whose handmade T-shirts are now being worn as far away as Norway and Mexico are now allowing their designs to be made part of a national collection at Te Papa.

NopeSisters Brittany and Johanna Cosgrove are behind the Mastectotee shirt - which is embroidered to resemble a mastectomy scar - and the NOPE shirt, designed to support the #icantkeepquiet movement against sexual violence and harassment.

The shirts are being added to Te Papa museum's national collection and will be put on display as part of the Women's Suffrage 125 celebrations later this year.

"We could never have dreamed we would be a part of national 'herstory' with our T-shirts," said Brittany.

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"We always said we wanted to change the world 'one tee at a time' but it is a dream having our messages represented and recognised nationally after such a short time. It's only happened because of the incredible power of community sharing and generous help from friends and family."

"The reach of the T-shirts is now global," said Johanna.

"They're being worn in countries from Norway to Mexico and everywhere in between, so we believe it's time to expand the support they can offer. We approached the Breast Cancer Foundation with our offer of profit share, because their goals for zero deaths from this disease align with our own ethos. They were very pleased to accept us as a community supporter."

The Mastectotee was designed by Brittany to normalise the scars of the disease and open conversations for the wearers about early detection. The breast and scar stitching was modelled on their mother, Bette Cosgrove.

The shirt may have even saved a life, after one wearer was prompted to check her own breasts for lumps.

The anonymous customer contacted the NopeSisters to say she put on her own Mastectotee, caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and decided to give her breasts "a bit of a feel to check for any nasties that shouldn't be there".

The customer said she found a lump in her right breast, got it checked, and is now having surgery to remove it.

"I'm 22 [and] never thought I'd find anything in my boobs, but it got me thinking that if I hadn't worn my tee that day I might not have," she told the sisters.

Te Papa's curator for contemporary life and culture Stephanie Gibson said the T-shirt designs were "significant".

"The Mastectotee is intentionally confronting. It aims to normalise breast cancer scars by showing what is normally hidden underneath clothing, prosthetics and reconstruction," she said.

"It takes a ubiquitous item of fashion - the T-shirt - and works against idealised images of femininity and sexualised breasts.

"The NOPE T-shirt is significant because it materialises the issue of sexual abuse and, like the Mastectotee, is an excellent example of fundraising through fashion and social enterprise via social media."

The tee was designed to raise money for Sexual Abuse Help, supporting survivors of sexual abuse and assault in the Wellington region.

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"NopeSisters address key ongoing feminist issues and contemporary zeitgeist movements, including sexual abuse and gender-based violence and the #MeToo movement; period poverty and access to affordable and sustainable menstrual products; breast cancer awareness; mental health issues and suicide prevention; body image pressures and eating disorders – by publicly addressing these issues on clothing."

They were a "beautiful example" of a social enterprise spreading through word of mouth.

"It's come from the hearts and desires and abilities of a very small group of people through going viral through their social media channels.

"I think it's beautiful how it's rippled out."

Gibson also liked how the T-shirts were handmade and ethically sourced, and could be customised - for example, someone could order a Mastectotee with the scar embroidered on a particular side, depending on which breast they or their loved one had had removed.

She said the T-shirts acted as walking billboards.

"It's almost like soft activism ... anybody can do that.

"T-shirts have long been used for this purpose, but these sisters are taking them to a new level."