Ecuador is world famous for the quality of their straw hats. These arise from the ability of artisans/weavers, mostly women of the provinces of Manabi, Cañar, Guayas and Esmeraldas. For hat weaving you can use the tender leaves or the bark of the paja toquilla plant, a kind of an African palm.
The basic raw material for manufacturing straw hats is the Carludovica Palmata. Which is grown in the mountainous parts of the East and of the Coast of Ecuador, provinces of Manabi, Guayas, Esmeraldas and Morona Santiago (Gualaquiza).
Straw fiber is a sort of palm without the trunk-Its leaves have the form of fan and it comes out from the ground. Each plant has broad leaves that reach two to three meters long. The outer part of the leaves is green, the center is ivory-white or pearl white and this is what is used to weave the straw hats.
In the commercial center of Montecristi are several stores dedicated to the sale of straw hats for men and straw hats for women. These hats arrive to Montecristi semi-elaborated from surrounding countryside as Pampas, Pile, Las Lagunas, to then be completed according to customer’s request.
These straw hats are made by hand from two weeks to three months in the countryside. Subsequently, hats are moved to this beautiful corner stores in Montecristi, where artisans work for 3 to 15 days to finish knitting out for sale.
The straw hats for sale in these stores reach values within 35 dollars to thousands of dollars. They all are high quality and are preferred by foreigners, who can’t leave without buying at least one Panama Hat/Montecristi Hat to decorate their head.
The downside of the business is the intermediaries who increase day by day. They buy in Montecristi straw hats wholesale and sent to Santo Domingo, Quito or Guayaquil, to be exported, making the artisan weavers who are the real artists get less money for their product. EcuadorianHands.com is a small sales-engine for artisans, the true artists of these crafts. They sell directly to end customers, thru this only store for Ecuadorian handicrafts.
According to many micro-entrepreneurs engaged in this activity for more than 60 years, each artisan sold between 180-200 hats monthly at a good price in the markets of Quito and Guayaquil. Unfortunately, since many years ago, intermediaries came to Montecristi to buy straw hat wholesale for exporting to their contacts. These people are attempting against the work of artisans since weavers are quitting hat manufacturing. Profit is going to intermediates rather than artisans. Time invested in the development of the genuine Panama Hat is large, 15 days to 3 months working.
Small shops in Montecristi, which are not as large as the used to be, exhibit beautiful straw hats that are finished by workers who have blisters in their hands and fingers for the dedication put into knitting Panamas/Montecristis.
Unfortunately, at the present moments the production of straw hats is low. Not many people want to work any longer weaving hats because it takes a long time and pay is not good. The culture of weavers, ancestral knowledge, is getting lost. At EcuadorianHands.com we hope that by working directly with artisan and end customers, we are contributing to the improvement of this activity and its conservation.
A real straw hat that has been weaved in Montecristi can last from ten to fifteen years. Their quality is excellent.