Many have been led to believe that ‘Panama hats’ are produced in the country bearing their name. The true origin of the hat is Ecuador where they are called ‘sombreros de paja toquilla’. Authentic Panama hats are usually woven in only two cities, Cuenca and Montecristi. Our hats are made from organic toquilla straw derived from a uniquely Ecuadorian plant called Cardulovica Palmata in Cuenca, known for its exceptional quality and high levels of craftsmanship.
The Panama hat was notoriously made famous by U.S President Theodore Roosevelt and the workers of the Panama Canal and since has been worn by everybody from Sean Connery to King Edward VII. It has become synonymous with style, class and elegance centuries after its creation making it a perfect example of timeless fashion.
Traditionally, the industry has been dominated by middlemen, who have exploited the hat producers due to their isolation and naiveté regarding international trade. By taking the reigns over hat production Azuaya is able to ensure that the artisans are getting a fair price for their hats. Recognising the intricate skills and its importance to the cities of Cuenca and Montecristi, in 2012 UNESCO added the art of weaving a Panama hat in Ecuador to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Authentic Panamas are graded by their quality and the fineness of the weave, the finer the weave, the higher the quality. We produce a wide range of qualities and styles that you can see in our collection. All of our Azuaya hats are hand-woven by our team of artisans from a hugely diverse range of backgrounds.
After the straw is collected, our artisans set about weaving them into an unfinished hat, this requires a lot of care and attention. Once the hat has been woven the Rematadora, cuts the loose straw from the brim and then refinishes the hat using a backweave. The following stages include the Azocador and the Cortador, who tighten the brim and cut off the remaining excess straw from the hat.
The hats are dropped off to our workshop by the artisans and then washed, bleached and left to dry on our land just outside of Cuenca. The hat is then ironed and blocked to create the finished article. As you can tell, the process has many stages and it takes a lot of skill to make a high grade Panama hat. The majority of the process takes place in the homes of our artisans