TIP OF THE HAT
Although popularized by President Theodore Roosevelt, who wore a black-banded straw number during an inspection of the Panama Canal, the sombreros de paja toquilla (“hats of toquilla straw”) were recorded as early as the 1600s.
Five centuries later, the people of Ecuador use the same hat-making techniques their forebears did.
Five centuries later, the people of Ecuador use the same hat-making techniques their forebears did. First, artisans cut off individual leaves by hand before cooking them in water till the chlorophyll evaporates and the desired texture is achieved. After a stint in the sun, where the leaves take on a golden-beige hue, the dry straw travels to the weaver, who spends two to three days assembling the hat from its crown to the brim. To give the hat its shape, it’s either hammered by hand or with a manually operated machine. Hatbands and other embellishments are then applied as the finishing touch.
The finer the grade of the hat, the longer it takes to make, Gerbi says. In fact, the most expensive ones can require more than four months apiece. Greenpacha offers several variations on the humble panama, from narrow-brimmed fedoras to flat-crowned pork-pie toppers. But more than that, the company, whose name means “green times” in the language of the indigenous Aymara people, wants to provide its customers with a unique product that “brings to the present the best of the roots of the past,” one that creates a greener—and indeed better—planet for all.