A handmade tale - the story of the Panama Hat

Television is rather hit and miss in Japan. Most of the time I don't bother with it so I am especially pleased when I stumble upon something worthwhile. Last night quite by accident I came upon a documentary about Panama Hats.

Panama Hats by Brent Black
Brent Black Panama Hats

I'll be honest I had never given hats any consideration at all. Did you know that Panama Hats are actually made in Ecuador? They were given the name during the construction of the Panama Canal. Many of the workers came from Ecuador wearing the straw hat for protection from the hot sun.

It was after a visit from Theodore Roosevelt that the hats became popular and began to be exported. Things went well for a while. Up until the 1950s hats were a standard wardrobe item but they gradually went of out favor. These days hats are simply worn as a fashion statement though I do find Japanese people to be fond of hats, much more than New Zealanders.

The best Panama Hats are made in a small village called Montecristi. To this day they are made entirely by hand. Woven so fine the straw weave becomes soft and pliant like linen cloth. They sell for thousands of dollars. Sadly the weavers themselves have not been paid anywhere near this amount, historically. People like Brent Black are doing their best to invigorate the industry and protect the craftsmen of the area. Of course they face stiff competition from other parts of Ecuador and from cheap overseas knock-offs.

If I had a few spare thousand lying around I would definitely buy one of these pieces of art. As I said, I am not a hat person, have never known anything about them and yet, watching the process of making them, well I want one!


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