Barcelona street vendors union’s troubles in finding a space to work

The group created Top Manta, a fashion brand, as a means to help undocumented migrants earn a living

Two models wear T-shirts from the 'Top Manta' collection during a fashion show, April 6, 2018 (by Pol Solà)
Two models wear T-shirts from the 'Top Manta' collection during a fashion show, April 6, 2018 (by Pol Solà) / Xènia Palau

Xènia Palau | Barcelona

August 1, 2021 03:20 PM

The Union of Barcelona Street Vendors - el Sindicat Popular de Venedors Ambulants de Barcelona in Catalan - requested a commercial space from the city council two years ago as a means to continue helping undocumented migrants earn a living, but the group says that the local government has failed to give them a worthwhile space to work.

The union launched their own clothing line in 2015 named Top Manta, in an attempt to reclaim the local slang word for the unlicensed street sellers that often sell pirated goods laid out on blankets. They have a physical store and a factory where they manufacture the products. 

As such, they asked for a social working space from the city council as they are growing every day, and they were eventually given the option. This year, they were able to choose one of the several commercial spaces offered, but it was not what they expected.

Papalaye Seck, a Senegalese man who is part of the union and also works in the shop, isn't happy with the location or the condition of the premises. "The area is not very commercial so we had to think about using it only as a warehouse. Moreover, the place is not in a very good condition and we even had a pipe burst," he says.

"You need to bear in mind that this is not a space that they have given us, they are renting it to us." Papalaye adds. The union complains because the rental prices are very similar to the rest of the private commercial spaces in the area.

Street Vendors Union 

The union was born in 2015 and started as a social project for all those migrants who were in a difficult situation. "There was a lot of police persecution and a lot of violence, it was time to respond," Papalaye says.  

Lamine, another Senagelese man who became a 'manter' right after arriving in Barcelona, says that many people work like this as a last resort.

"Being on the street is hard," he says. "Some of them do it because they have no other choice and maybe it is their last chance."

He firmly believes the union has helped many people in the same situation to organize themselves, to create a project and fight for their rights.

Top Manta brand 

The Top Manta fashion label opened its first store in Barcelona in 2017 and a year later began making their products available online

They sell T-shirts, books, sweaters and tote bags of all imaginable colors with powerful phrases, such as 'Illegal people, Legal clothes' and 'True clothes, Fake system'.

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