Ande Dem: Redrawing the vending terrain through fashion and resistance

MALIN A. EVERTSZ MENDEZ  |  14 AUGUST 2021  |  ISSUE #16

Waves in La Barceloneta. Picture by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash.

Ande Dem means “to walk together” in Wolof’ (Top Manta). This motto, Ande Dem, is the heart and soul of the Top Manta brand. The brand was created by Sindicato Mantero, a labour union of Sub-Saharan African migrants in Barcelona. Most of these migrants are Senegalese. Manteros join the informal labour market of street vendors to sell imitations of designer trainers or bags to tourists in the plazas of Spain.

 

The Ande Dem video campaign is centred around Top Manta’s colourful and sturdy Ande Dem trainer, which honours Africa’s diversity. It starts by following a young man who runs with ease along a beach at dusk. In the backdrop, a seemingly unaware narrator chants ‘believe in yourself. If you want it: go and take it. Faster, higher, stronger – run, jump, follow your dreams. Just do it.’ Suddenly, the runner comes to a halt and notices a group of people who struggle to exit a small boat on the shore. The narrator’s inspirational message is buried as the recently arrived migrants’ worries become more audible.

 

We lose sight of the boat and watch as the runner jumps and climbs up a fence. He is chased and beaten by police in daylight. Snapshots of police brutality take over the campaign, putting the campaign’s pulse to a halt. The harsh reality of police brutality confiscates many migrants’ rights to their own destinies. Running is no longer a glorified pursuit of cliques of ‘if you want it: go and take it’, but rather, for many manteros, an everyday survival strategy of street vending. 

 

The very branding of street vendors as manteros stems from a weaponisation of appearance. As ‘walking’ vendors, many have come to be branded as street vending ‘manteros’. Manta in Spanish means blanket and represents the fact that vendors carry their merchandise in a large blanket, which is readily mobile. In addition to the police, some racist tourists or residents often perpetuate this violence as they frame manteros as upholding an ‘irregular’ or ‘illegal’ appearance. 

 

With ache in his heart, the runner joins his friends and jumps onto the boat. Fixed on the sand, the boat itself becomes a site of temporary sanctuary burdened with immobility. Where it is meant to float or go, it simply sits. Similarly, the blankets represent the baggage of placelessness and survival. The runner, however, is not simply hiding in the boat’s shadow but finds strength and brotherhood with those still on it. In light of this truth, the campaign ends with Sindicato Mantero’s careful return to the hotbed of Barcelona’s centre. That is the Ande Dem or walking-together unity of manteros, as they seek true belonging and economic empowerment.

 

The hope is that the weaponisation of appearances can be swept under sewing-machine tables and can be transformed into a critique of ‘illegality’. Why does this jarring fashion campaign reveal violence, economic displacement, and fractured mobility? The painful truth is: imperialism and neocolonial discrimination. As a response, the Sindicato Mantero collective has turned to ethical fashion to provide job opportunities and raise awareness. From these efforts, a counter-narrative and counter-fashion brand was born, Top Manta.

 

The Sindicato Mantero’s counter-narrative is compellingly marked by community, ethical sustainability, and resistance. Top Manta is made in local workshops in Spain and Portugal. Ultimately, it defies the imperial and capitalist mindset that is designed against them. Their ethical production methods channel the ethos of Ande Dem, as they give back to the street vending migrant community. Top Manta comes forward to light up local and unionised production spaces, in hopes that the Ande Dem fashion line stays true to its intent. 

 

The Ande Dem trainers flip the hyper-individualised motto of mainstream sneaker brands, like Nike for example. Top Manta reclaims it to ‘change the rules of the game and make them fair to all. It's not about just doing it. It's about doing it right.’ Colonial cultural hierarchy, metropolitan displacement, and violent racism are the pillars of the game of imperialism and surveillance. This game bleeds into the street and weaponises the corporeal right to exist. Top Manta is aware of the first rule: imperialism, namely the global production network (GPN). This system of capitalist mass distribution exploits workers in the Global South and further isolates street vendors from economic mobility. High fashion as we know it is deeply entrenched in the GPN. The second rule of the game is displacement. On their site, Top Manta highlights how Spanish fishing businesses exacerbate resource exploitation in their home countries, thus perpetuating inequity and depriving Africans of their livelihoods. This abuse has surfaced into the anti-migrant climate of Spanish host cities, especially in public spaces. Stopping the game means pushing for the decriminalisation of street vending. 

 

The campaign ends with the mantero community selling their own trainers on top of fresh blankets to highlight the communal impact of the Top Manta brand. For this reason, the blanket carries so much resonance. Raw, visible, and malleable, the blanket is a vessel for both mobility and permanence. Where it was once a marker that rendered manteros politically invisible and ostracised, it is now seen as a symbol of solidarity and resistance.  


Remember how the runner jumped back into the boat? There is evident in-betweenness and despair. It begs the question, does the act of running towards or ‘doing’ greatness require an already empowered subject position? For manteros, the community offers the seeds of collective empowerment through unapologetic being and resisting. The fashion brand is only the beginning. Ande Dem is truly evoked using a mantero’s blanket as Top Manta’s logo, which is branded on both the trainers and t-shirts. The blanket transforms from a material of eviction and detectability to the exhibition of balance, groundedness and permanence. The Ande Dem trainer reminds us that migrants are fighting to be seen, instead of being concealed or tracked. Thus far, they have shaped the fashion vending terrain by pointing out hypocrisies, calling out imperialism, racial prejudice, and police brutality, and finally bending the power of materiality. It is through this vessel and logo that we can realise the Sindicato’s counter-narrative, Ande Dem.

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Malin A. Evertsz Mendez

Malin is a visual artist and interdisciplinary scholar. She was born and raised in New York City and identifies as Dominican-American. She is inspired by how cultural productions portray lived reflections of migration, im(mobility), and belonging in spiritual or metropolis borderlands. Malin completed her Master’s in Migration, Mobility, and Development at SOAS, University of London. She enjoys taking civil society/social movement and global contemporary art so much that she tackled and wrote a cross-disciplinary dissertation entitled They Call me the Clandestine Migrant, which analysed street vending struggles through the lens of ontology and in conversation with Manu Chao's Clandestine album. She studied international studies and philosophy at Trinity College for her Bachelor’s degree. You can find Malin sketching and mind-mapping paintings in bursts of longing or spontaneity! She loves cycling, sudoku puzzles, and travelling. She is a communication officer at Routed Magazine.

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