Adapted from an article by Charlotte Barrett
This post is about… fashion.
Hold on, let me set things straight. I loathe shopping for clothes and I just wear the same pair of flip-flops 7 months a year. Despite despising most trends I am aware that fashion plays an important part in our society and economy and I must confess I bought an Armani suit once.
Anyway, this post is about people making history by breaking the mold.
This post is about a story related to designer clothing and the streetwear industry.
The kind of fashion industry I am talking about though, is what you must have seen on display in the streets of most big European cities.
It is not difficult to spot, right there, on the road or pavement. You might even have bought some of these garments. It is the kind of bargain and impossibly cheap fashion we can buy from street sellers, those carrying huge bags filled with sunglasses, fake Gucci bags or counterfeit Nike sneakers.
I wanna tell a story about them. Yeah, exactly those ones who are constantly chased by local police, those who scatter as soon as a uniform moves towards them.
Barcelona, its crowded streets, that is where the tale I am about to tell you is set.
There, these street sellers are nicknamed Manteros, because they use blankets, mantas, to display what they sell and pack it up quickly when they spot some cops.
I am not going to tell you what the life of those sellers is, nor where they come from, not even how they got there and most of all, I am not going to tell you what the future holds for them. Or maybe I will.
Despite living in the uncertainty of being an illegal alien in Europe, the Manteros of Barcelona are actively shaping a brighter, better, fairer future for themselves and society as a whole.
This is what I want to talk about.
It all begun five years ago when manteros created a trade union, El Sindicato Popular de los Vendedores Ambulantes. With the creation of the union, the vendors, coming mainly from various African countries, hoped to earn legitimacy and work towards the regularization of their situation.
As it is well known, once in Europe, there is no way round a system that prevents illegal migrants from working. To become legal, migrants need a work contract. Therefore, the options are very few: either being exploited as a domestic worker or as daily worker in the fields or illegally sell in the streets. It goes without saying that once convicted for selling illegally, all chances of paper regularization vanish immediately.
So, what’s the story? Those manteros, through the union, went on to create their own brand of clothes: Top Manta, “legal clothing made by illegal people”. 25 ex-street vendors are now full-time employees of the company and have regularized their situation.
It is not just a business venture, it is a tool of resistance, of revindication, against borders, contempt and oblivion. The brand is proudly political and you should check out their website where they explain it all better than I could ever do.
Why do I like their story so much? Because they remind us that migrants do not come empty handed to Europe, they come with richesses: their creativity, their ambition, their dreams, their knowledge, their history, and their roots.
Recently, Top Manta revealed its newest addition, a pair of sneakers, a brave and daring challenge thrown at Nike. Unlike the famous American sports brand, the Top Manta sneakers called Ande Dem (Walking together in Wolof) are produced locally, are ethical and full of values. The slogan is clear “It’s not about just doing it, it’s about doing it right”.
So…Ande dem, let’s walk together!
If you’re confused as to what is a migrant, an immigrant or even a refugee or, if you want to learn all about the restrictive measures, against International Law and Human Rights, enforced by the European Union at the borders, Amnesty International sums it up for you.