Where is the Panama Hat origin? In ECUADOR!
Wait, what? Panama Hats are not from Panama? No! They absolutely are not!
We get it. It is only fair to say that, understandably, people believe that Panama Hats come from Panama. It is also true to say that people find it confusing when they learn that Panama Hats do not come from Panama and that they have their origins in Ecuador, a completely different country, with no ties to the famous hats in the name, at least. To make the Panama Hat origin even more unclear, the hats were famously exported worldwide from Panama, leading people to associate them with their shipping origin rather than their manufacturing origin.
So here we are, to address this confusion, clear the air, and point you in the right direction if you are trying to learn where original Panama Hats are made.
First thing's first: Panama Hats are made in Ecuador and always have been. Contrary to what the name may indicate or to what some may believe, they are not made in Panama and never have been.
Also, and important to point out here, not every hat referred to as a "Panama Hat' is, in reality, an original Panama Hat. When you are in the market for an original Panama Hat, be careful about buying any hat simply named or marketed as a Panama Hat. It might turn out to be a pig in a poke. If you are truly trying to own an original Panama Hat you need to know what you are shopping for. For more detailed information on this particular subject, please read our blog post on this link.
Going back to the origins of the authentic Panama Hat, and given the name entanglement, it is only fair to ask "why are these amazing handwoven hats referred to as Panama Hats as opposed to Ecuador hats?"
There's a little bit of history behind the answer to that question.
It was in the mid-1600s that Panama Hat production began in Ecuador, but it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the sophisticated weaving practices involved in the creation of the Panama Hat gained worldwide popularity.
Now, and before learning the history of the Original Panama Hat per se, we need to place the use of toquilla straw in history; the material still used to hand-weave the worldwide famous hats.
Archaeological discoveries of the indigenous local Valdivia culture in the province of Manabí in Ecuador, where the town of Montecristi is also located, confirm the presence of the toquilla straw hat around 4,000 years BC. These indigenous people used the strong and long leaves of the toquilla plant to weave a light cloth, which was pliable and durable. With the resulting product, they created hats used for protection from the harsh equatorial sun. From those times onward, the inhabitants of the coastal equatorial lands cultivated the toquilla plant and produced hats as a tradition.
As time passed, down on the coast of Ecuador, the town of Montecristi found itself busy creating a steady output of these finely-crafted and straw-brimmed hats.
Business savvy Manuel Alfaro saw the business potential on these artistly crafted hats and proceeded to export them to Panama. Mr. Alfaro lucked out as his export business concurred with the stream of miners flowing from the east coast of the United States looking to get in on the Gold Rush. These coinciding events made these straw hats desired as these aspiring workers bought them in bundles to protect themselves from the beaming California sun.
The popularity and fascination for such hats occurred largely in the ports of Panama which is why the name was linked to the place of purchase rather than their place of origin.
Panama Hats remain humble in origin and rich in artistry and history. They continue to be handwoven by expert artisans in small towns in the Andean and coastal regions of Ecuador and are now available to buyers in the US brought to you by The Hip Hat! You are welcome!