|Photo: Eduardo Leal|
Those exquisite traditional straw hats, known as Panama Hats, have actually been made in Ecuador since the early 17th century and were designated by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012. It takes three months to make a top quality hat, and weavers can only work in the early and late hours of the day because the straw breaks when it’s exposed to high temperature. They should more accurately be called Montecristi hats as they are cleaned, finished and sold in the town of Montecristi, the Panama hat’s spiritual home in the province of Manabi.
A weaver only makes between $700 to $1,200 to produce a superfino hat, which can fetch for $25,000 abroad. Ecuador’s hat makers face competition from China, the world’s top producer of low priced "straw" hats which are actually made from paper. It is estimated that the last-ever traditionally made Montecristi hat will be woven in the next 15 years.
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