Panama hats are considered delicate, flexible, strong and resistant. They are one of Ecuador´s most acclaimed handicrafts!
They portray exquisite artisanship, which has become an international symbol of masculine elegance for over a century. In addition, their production has a close relationship with historic events in Ecuador.
Since Pre-Colombian times, the Panama hat production has been interwove with Ecuador’s history. Since 500-1500 a.d, Ecuadorian ethnic groups such as Manteños, Huancavilcas and Mantelvos use to weave paja toquilla fiber. Historic findings show ancient archeological evidence that show men wearing what we call Panama Hats nowadays. Even though this hypothesis have not been proven, the fact that these hats are produced in Montecristi, Manabí, gives more support to this belief.
From Montecristi to the world
By the 19th century, panama hats became a must-have for Ecuadorian men who lived in the coast. Plantation owners and workers saw in this hat the perfect piece for essential protection from the scorching equatorial sun.
Nevertheless, Panama Hats were not only famous in Ecuador but they started to become popular internationally. Manuel Alfaro, a Spanish merchant was the first man to export these hats to California and created a relevant wealth out of this export business. His son Eloy Alfaro, who was later to become Ecuador´s president, continued this wealth generator business. In 1855, in the Paris World Fair this hat was presented as a worldwide prestige. Nevertheless, Ecuador was not recognized as the home country for this creation. A French man who had returned from Panama presented the hat as the Panama hat.
The Panama Canal and the reason why this hat is know as the Panama hat
It was 1904 in the hot, damp and mosquito-infested construction of one of the world´s most amazing engineer projects: the Panama Canal. The entire world had its eyes on this construction, and photos of workers wearing the airy and comfortable hat were shown worldwide. Besides, pictures of President Roosevelt inspecting the Panama Canal truly brought the hat to the limelight, and firmly established the montecristi as the Panama hat.
The hat´s creation process
The creation of the Panama hat is not an easy task! First, in the villages near Montecristi, specialists cultivate, buy and prepare the fiber. After that, they must skillfully separate it into thin strands which must be cut and submerged under water for 6 or 7 hours in order to make a flexible fiber. The fiber needs to remain wet in order for it to be malleable between the artisan´s nimble fingers. Many hat experts work at dawns or in the evening so that the sun will not dry up this precious raw material.
According to Panama hat expert Martine Buchet: “Even though each montecristi is unique, the successive steps remain the same. At the beginning, the artisan creates the rosette or the center of the crown. This is made with eight fibers in a tight lattice. As the weaving process continues, new straws are incorporated in order to enlarge the circle which ends in a perfectly made Panama hat”.
Homero Ortega is a company that produces Panama Hats and other straw products. In its fifth generation the Ortega family is dedicated to this activity which makes them the oldest and most experienced company in the production and export of Panama Hats.
Homero Ortega seeks to generate socioeconomic development in Ecuador and highlight its craftsmanship in the global context. It is also important to note that biodegradable elements play an important role in the production of our products, helping to conserve the environment.