The odyssey to make one authentic Panama Hat

If you are interested in learning how Panama Hats come to life and the workmanship behind these unique accessories, you are in the right place. 

The Hip Hat will take you on a fascinating journey to discover the heart and soul of Panama Hats. This excursion sets off with the natural origins of Panama Hats, the artistry and experience necessary, and the different artisans involved in getting a finished hat on someone's head.

In honor of the time and effort invested in each Panama Hat, The Hip Hat believes that each harvester and artisan deserves to be acknowledged throughout what feels more like an odyssey than a production process. We are certain that once our clients discover the intricacies of how each Panama Hat is made purely by hand, they will not only be in awe but will cherish their own Panama Hats even more.

Here we go!

The origins of the Panama Hat take us to Ecuador. 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.
Panama Hats are made entirely from a natural fiber that comes from a palm-like plant that has the scientific name “Carludovica Palmata.” Its leaves are green, spiky, and, unlike true palms, it does not develop a woody trunk. This plant, which is endemic to Ecuador, grows throughout the tropical coastal province of Manabí.

Skilled, knowledgeable, and sustainable-minded harvesters select the right plants. These plants can’t be cut too early, as they won’t be fibrous enough; and they can’t be cut too late either, as they won’t be dense enough. Once harvested, farmers separate the fiber from the green outer skin. The fiber is then boiled in large pots repeatedly to remove the chlorophyll thus getting rid of the greenish color. The boiling hot water together with the steam is enough to obtain a beige color.

The cooking is immediately followed by a drying session. The fibers are hung out to dry under the sun and wind. The drying process has the main objective of draining the fiber and separating the strands from each other. Incredibly, the following step is one where the fibers are smoked in a very rudimentary oven for 12 hours to eliminate chlorophyll. 

The fibers are transported and handed over to the weavers. Weavers are experienced artisans who master the unique hand skills necessary to create elaborate Panama Hats. This expertise is passed down from generation to generation, and entire families and communities live off weaving.

The weavers begin their craft by hand-weaving a tiny circular mat (rosette) that forms the center of the hat. Then, they gradually add more and more pieces of straw until the little rosette becomes a large and flatweave.  The initial weaved piece is then transferred and placed under a wooden cylinder stand that allows the weaver to keep the piece in place while adding woven sides to the crown and weaving the brim out. When the weaver finally reaches the edge, a spray of straw forms all around the edge.  

Weaving and finishing a Panama Hat is a collaborative endeavor, and from this point forward a few more hands will intervene and share the process. There are at least five more artisans who are experts at specific and detail-oriented tasks that are musts before a hat is finished. There is a “rematador” (rreh-mah-teh-door), a “cortador” (coar-teh-door), an “apaleador” (ah-pah-leah-door), and finally the “planchador” (plahn-chaa-door). These men and women perform the ultimate delicate acts before the finishing touch of a Panama Hat.

The rematador finishes the hat by carefully weaving back each piece of straw around the brim toward the hat to create a uniform edge. The weaver will then pull the straw tight to ensure it stays in place. The cortador intervenes by trimming the loose ends of the straw. The cutting process consists of shaving off protruding strands of straw all over the hat as well as cutting off with scissors the remaining straw around the brim. The apaleador works his/her magic by pounding the hat with a wooden mallet to soften the weave. The planchador steps in to iron the hat, remove any wrinkles that may have been left as a result of the complex hat-making process and make it crisp.  At last, the ultimate stage is to be completed: blocking or sculpting the unformed hat into its final shape and well-known recognizable style: The Panama Hat.

And voila, your The Hip Hat - Panama Hat, or shall we say, piece of art, is ready!