Panama Hat making in Ecuador
Panama Hats South Africa

Genuine Panama Hats South Africa

Genuine Panama Hats are hand-woven from “paja toquilla” , a palm leaf fibre (Carludovica palmata) in Ecuador, South America and are made no place else in the world, not even Panama.

The name comes from the fame they earned when, in the mid 1800’s, fortune seekers passing through the Isthmus of Panama on their way to the gold rush in California, bought these hats, imported from Ecuador, and then later, when they were provided to the engineers and workers constructing the Panama Canal in the early 1900’s. Ever since then these truly Ecuadorian hats have been called Panama Hats.

The Panama hats achieved their greatest fame in the late 19th and early 20th century when US presidents, European royalty, high society and flashy gangsters all wore them. So much so that in the early 1940’s they became Ecuador’s biggest export product. Their popularity diminished in the latter part of the 20th century but these handcrafted , highly covetable panama hats are now making a big comeback, mostly because they are timelessly chic and can dress up any kind of outfit to create a cutting-edge look.

The reed- like palm(carludovica palmata) from which the Panama Hats are woven is grown only in the coastal hills of Ecuador, where conditions are ideal for its growth and regeneration. The Panama hats are woven in 2 main centres – Cuenca in the Andean highlands and Montecristi on the coast. The straw grows for 3 years before it is cut, bundled and sent to local markets, where Panama Hat weavers buy what they need. The straw is then boiled, dried, split, boiled and dried again before it is ready to be woven. It takes about a day and a half to several weeks or months to weave one Panama Hat, depending on the fineness of the weave.

Each and every Panama Hat is hand crafted and is therefore unique, and the quality and the price depend on the fineness and regularity of the weave. The best quality Panama Hats, the “superfinos”, are painstakingly woven by a very few master weavers, can take months to weave and can cost a small fortune. After weaving the Panama Hats are then sold to the Panama Hat dealers, where they are bleached or dyed, and then steam pressed into different shapes and styles.