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Secrets of the Panama hat

Secrets of the Panama hat

Panama hats have been loved by the style-savvy since their creation in the early 19th century, but very few people know their true story.

Authentic Panama hats are always handmade, delicately woven using age-old techniques passed down from generation to generation within the artisanal families and communities of Ecuador.

The Toquilla straw used to craft Panama hats is fashioned from the young leaves of the Carludovica palmate - a native plant found on Ecuador’s low-lying tropical plains.

As with Artesano’s genuine Panama hats, these leaves are then carefully cut into ribbons and sustainably boiled and treated.

Once gently dried, they are carefully woven and shaped by hand, as the straw is too delicate for processing by machine.

Toquilla straw, used for crafting authentic Panama hats
The ‘Panama’ association

After decades of popularity in their home country, Ecuador began shipping hats to Panama during the mid-19th century, where they sold well amongst well-heeled travellers and became affectionately known as ‘Panamas’.

Panama was also the vibrant trade hub for the export of Latin American goods to the world, meaning that deliveries of Ecuador’s traditional hats arrived with the label of origin ‘Panama’ when delivered to Europe and further abroad.

A presidential style statement

President Theodore Roosevelt also cemented the hats’ association with Panama further, when he sported a classic style during his famous visit to the Panama Canal in 1906 – resulting in photographs that featured on the front pages of newspapers around the world and a feverish demand for his stately fashion sense.

President Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt wearing a Panama hat at the Panama Canal, 1906

An enduring cultural icon 

In 2012, UNESCO added the Ecuadorian art of crafting the Panama hat to its esteemed List of Cultural Heritage – enshrining the artisanal traditions and techniques as a key part of Ecuador’s national identity.

Shaping the future

Here at Artesano, we’re proud to be showcasing Ecuador’s heritage to the world – adhering to traditional techniques and working with artisans to honour and evolve the classic Panama hat.

At the heart of our respect for the past is a commitment to sustainable practices now and in the future – not only in terms of using natural materials and eco-friendly principles, but in ensuring enduring livelihoods for our Ecuadorian artisans.

Ecuadorian Panama hat artisans, pictured in Ecuador