Friday, 12 January 2024, 13:06
Demba Diop has been in Spain now for nearly 12 years. He has been in Benalmádena ever since he arrived from Senegal. His story is different from that of many of his compatriots in that he did not have to risk his life at sea to get here. He arrived with a tourist visa and a suitcase full of dreams and ambitions.
Demba is a tailor and dressmaker and when he arrived in Spain in 2012, he had been running a business in Dakar for ten years where he worked and trained other young tailors from his country. He was keen to discover other cultures to enhance his profession. When he arrived in Benalmádena he fell in love with the place: "A place by the sea, like Senegal," he said, speaking with the support of his friend Djidril Balde, on hand to help with translation when his Spanish dries up.
The harsh reality hit him soon after arriving in Spain, when he realised that the doors of fashion workshops were not opening for him and that it would be impossible to make a living from his profession, which he says is also his passion. So he became a street vendor, like many of his fellow Senegalese in Benalmádena. "I didn't want to sell things in the streets; I wanted to earn a living with my profession," he said.
His future changed radically when he came across María, a dressmaker with her own workshop, who was looking for someone to help with some work she had to do for a religious brotherhood. Someone had told her about Demba and she called him for a trial. "The first day she told me to cut out a pattern. When I did it she was happy and so was I," he said. "The second day she told me to use the sewing machine; I did and we were both happy," he explained.
In the end María, whom he refers to as "la señora María", took him on and they started to work together.
The job meant that he could get his residence papers and bring his family over from Senegal. "I worked with her for six years and it changed my life," Demba says. But when the pandemic came, María retired and offered him the chance to take over the workshop, "but I couldn't afford it", he explained.
His former boss did, however, give him her equipment and he took it home from where now he sews to order, mainly for his own compatriots. This, however, is not enough to live off and he also works in the kitchen of a local restaurant.
Last summer local business association ACEB launched a campaign to collect CVs from the Senegalese people working as street vendors in an attempt to connect them with business owners in need of workers. Demba handed in his CV, quoting his profession as a tailor and dressmaker, which caught the attention of the association's president Rosa González.
Later, when she was approached by the town hall to support the organisation of the first Benalmádena Dmoda fashion show, González remembered Demba and encouraged him to take part in the young talent competition, held in Puerto Marina in December.
At first Demba, who is now 44 and has two children, one at university and the other three years old, thought that he was being invited to take part in a television competition. "I don't speak Spanish well enough," he told Rosa. She explained that what he had to do was prepare a collection to show on the catwalk two weeks later.
With the support of his friend Djidril and his family, he set the sewing machine that María had given him to work and, after a "crazy fortnight", managed to present a collection that the competition judges considered "impeccable" both in design and sewing.
"I thought I would enter a collection with a western and African touch and the truth is that it surprised everyone. The way we sew, the fabric, the way women wear scarves is different in Senegal and the judges liked it."
In fact they liked it so much that Demba Diop was declared the winner of the competition. The result has revived his hopes of being able to make a living from his profession. All he needs now is a job opportunity that allows him to continue working magic with his hands.
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