After years of selling cheap copies of designer shoes and bags, Barcelona’s street vendors have created a cooperative and launched a line of coaches under the Top Manta brand.
Unlike an earlier attempt to establish a brand in 2017 by pasting a logo on imported shoes from China, the sneakers are made in Alicante in Spain and Porto in Portugal.
“We have always been criticized and persecuted for selling copies, but now we have our own brand,” Lamine Sarr, a spokesperson for Top Manta, told The Guardian.
The spectacular launch of the cooperative featured the Come on Dem coaches, which means “walk together” in Wolof, the language spoken by most manteros (vendors), who are mainly from Senegal.
The name Top Manta comes from the blanket (blanket) sellers deposit their products. The logo is made of a blanket, but it also represents waves to reflect the fact that most of the manteros arrived in Spain after making the risky sea voyage in small inflatable boats.
The colors of the shoes are reminiscent of Africa, Sarr said, while the sturdy soles make them more suitable for working in the dirt or on a construction site than for jogging.
The shoes were designed by a group of manteros with the help of a local architect and designer, Sara González de Ubieta, and a graphic designer, Helga Juárez.
Unlike the big brands that mass-produce sneakers in low-income countries, Top Manta says it has opted for responsible production with the aim of reviving the artisan shoe industry.
They have produced 400 pairs so far, with a retail price of 115 euros (£ 100). They can be purchased at the Barcelona cooperative store or online. All proceeds go to building the brand and helping the manteros and their families.
The cooperative has produced a promotional video that will be shown on its website and on social media.
“We are very happy to have the Ande Dem shoes. It is a dream come true,” said Abdou Lahat Wade, who will soon be selling them.
“We are showing those people who always said we weren’t capable of making our own shoes that we can.
“We are like a brotherhood and that gives us the strength and perseverance to face the present and create a future for ourselves.”
The pandemic has been a disaster for street vendors, whose already precarious working lives were cut short by the lockdowns and the absence of tourists, their main customers.
“It has been really difficult during the pandemic,” Sarr said. “These are people who cannot claim unemployment benefit and there has been no support from the government. We set up a food bank and set up sewing machines and people came here to the store to work voluntarily sewing shoes and clothes. “
Spanish laws condemn illegal immigrants to a marginal existence. To obtain legal residence, non-EU immigrants must reside in the country for three years, demonstrate that they have had a fixed address for at least one year, demonstrate that they are learning the language, and have an employment contract for a minimum of one year. For many, perhaps most, these conditions are impossible to meet and they remain in stateless limbo.
By creating jobs in shoe manufacturing and marketing, Top Manta has succeeded in obtaining legal residency for 120 manteros and has found work for 25 of its members. It also offers training in textiles and screen printing, as well as language classes.
When asked why anyone would choose Top Manta sneakers over Nike, New Balance or Adidas, Sarr said: “Instead of supporting a multinational that exploits desperate people in the developing world, you are helping a community that it is discriminated in every way. You are helping people to legalize and work for a decent salary. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism