Panama Hat Production

Panama Hats are meticulously handwoven using the finest straw derived from the toquilla palm leaf, grown in the coastal lowlands of Ecuador. The palm leaves are shredded into thin fibers, sun dried, and then skillfully woven by master weavers from the town of Montecristi. The artisans employ a tight and prices technique, resulting in the creation of the world's finest hats.

The Harvest

The Panama Hat is made out of toquilla straw that comes from the tropical rain forest wild plant with the scientific name of Carludovica. The plant grows only near the coast of Ecuador, between 100 and 400 meters above sea level.

The lowlands of the Manabi Province provide ideal conditions for the growth of the plant: rich soil, right amount of moisture, cool air and shade generated by other plants.

The Carludovica plant takes 3 years to achieve maturity and it's stalks reach up to 8 feet in height. After this time, harvesting can be done in cycles of around 30 days. During this 30 day cycle new leaves are grown. The new shots found towards the base of the plant are the ones that are selected since they are thinner!

To ensure the quality of the straw, harvesting is done during days in which the leaves hold less moisture and are lighter. With the use of machetes, the new stalks are cut by hand, bundled and transported by horse or truck to weaving villages. Each stalk contains wrapped fingers of large compound leaves.

Processing the Straw

Stalks are opened and the inner leaf fingers are separated and split into dozens of thin straws attached to the leaf stem. The prepared stalk is then cleaned and boiled in a big pot of water for about an hour and then hung to dry. The straw is then sorted by thickness and bundled together in a common length of about one meter.

In the coastal town of Montecristi, the straw is then put in a sealed container with a bowl of sulfur and lit with charcoal inside over night. The smoke slowly bleaches the straw into the Montecristi straw color which is called "natural' color. In the Andean city of Cuenca, the straw is bleached to white or sometimes dyed to a beige color in order to look as the Montecristi "natural" color.

The Weaving

With the straw ready, hats are woven outwards from the center of the crown using a wooded crown form as support. Thinner straws are selected for weaving high quality hats. A Top Quality hat can take up to three months while a budget Cuenca hat can be finished in a couple of days.


After weaving is finished, the excess of straw that remains hanging from the brim is then weaved backwards (towards the crown) forming a thin but strong band around the brim. The remaining straw of the brim is then cut with a razor blade as well as the straw ends of the inside of the hat.

The hat brims are then ironed to even out the weave and remove any small undulations in the straw. Montecristi Hats are also ironed with a little sulfur in order to lighted the color of the hats.

The different shapes of the hats such as the Fedora or Colonial forms are shaped with the use of a steam press, however some Montecristi Hats are still blocked by hand using an iron over a wooden form.

Finally, a ribbon is attached to the hat and an internal band is sewn before the hat is ready for sale.