The hat we call “Panama” is originally from Ecuador, a regional version of a European brogue, made by weaving local palm leaves – toquilla or jipjapa – rather than steaming felt. But it became popular for men everywhere with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, where laborers wore the hat while digging. Franklin Roosevelt further popularized the Panama, which he often wore. It’s been a classic ever since, and a favorite of the world’s most stylish, including another US president.
I’m pleased to offer Panama from Ecuador through ProPueblo, a private non-profit organization working with the Ecuadorian coastal communities on the western slopes of the Chongon Colonche mountain range.
They not only organize and market fine artisan production of traditional craft, also working to raise living standards, improve basic infrastructure, job training, and employment for native peoples. Promoting new sources of income for poor families in these small communities reduces pressure on the environment, diminishes migration to cities and foreign countries, and helps preserve the cultural and ecological heritage of the region.
About 400 artisans produce a wide variety of accessories for home and to wear, and most often work from their own homes or studios. In this way ProPueblo helps to keep families and communities together, while also buying tools, raw materials and equipment that under-financed individuals can buy on credit from the foundation.
Working with the independence and organization the foundation provides initiative, develops skills and allows for planning a brighter future, further strengthening family and community. Many regional craftspeople have created their own businesses, multiplying opportunities for others.
The art of weaving the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2012. A fine hat it is, in every way.