Panama Hat articles from the web

Discussion in 'Hats' started by HungaryTom, Apr 19, 2007.

  1. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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    Hi all,

    I am starting this thread since Fedora Lounge is a great forum for information.

    I post here links of some cool articles on Panama hats I found browsing the internet so they can reach their target audience, namely hat aficionados here at FL.

    This is a chronological listing.

    Panama hats: made in Ecuador, undercut by China
    By Christian Oliver
    http://www.boston.com/news/world/la...anama_hats_made_in_ecuador_undercut_by_china/

    The last straw
    By Hal Weitzman
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/c0c336fe-a181-11db-8bc1-0000779e2340.html

    Keep your hat on!
    Georgina Guedes
    http://www.news24.com/News24/Columnists/Georgina_Guedes/0,9294,2-1630-2022_2020828,00.html


    Primo Panama Hats, a Dying Art in Ecuador
    by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4683911


    Since these articles are available from the public domain I hope this will not hurt any copyrights.
    If yes please delete the entire thread.

    The articles are "neutral" so not inserted from this or the other sellers home-page.

    If there is no problem with copyrights I invite all, to post similar links so we can learn more.

    Regards:

    Hungary Tom
     
  2. RBH

    RBH Bartender

    Nice....

    thanks!
     
  3. RedPop4

    RedPop4 One Too Many

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    Thank you, Tom.
     
  4. Panamabob

    Panamabob Call Me a Cab

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    It is true, I've been in it.


    That is one of the funniest things I've ever read. Perhaps it is coming true. I do hope so.
     
  5. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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    And here is another :

    Where the hatters go mad if you mention Panama

    June 10, 2005
    From James Hider in Montecristi

    The arrival of occasional tour buses in the sleepy town of Montecristi sends a ripple of activity through the Ecuadorean heat haze: young men pretend to iron Panama hats on wooden blocks, women set out half-finished fedoras as though interrupted while weaving.

    The Panama hat — dandyish trademark of the man from Del Monte, the American writer Tom Wolfe and an institution at Glorious Goodwood — has always suffered an identity crisis.
    Connoisseurs know that it has been made for centuries in Ecuador, despite the popular name, derived from the fact that it was exported through Panama and enjoyed its heyday shielding builders of the canal from the tropical heat.
    In the back streets, away from the air-conditioned buses ferrying curious American pensioners, Rosendo Delgado puts the finishing touches to silky-smooth hats the colour of vanilla ice-cream. At 80, with rheumy eyes and swollen knuckles, he is one of the last master craftsmen in town, and for 60 years has painstakingly pleated brims of hats that can cost more than $10,000 (£5,500) in the United States.
    Making a real Panama “superfino” takes three months and involves up to six people. A good hat should be so tightly woven that it can hold water, and can be folded up for easy storage without losing its shape. Señor Delgado charges between $30 and $500 for the finished product.
    But the time and effort, and the poor pay, have driven many in Montecristi into other businesses, and Señor Delgado — who weaves with his wife and brother-in-law in a tiny workshop — worries for the future.
    “People don’t weave as much. They work in fishing and shrimp factories. There are fewer families dedicating themselves to this. Before, in my father’s time, everyone lived off this,” he said.
    The fifth-generation hat-maker has come to terms with Panama’s capitalising on Ecuador’s most famous product, but it still rankles. “They have misnamed it the Panama, but Panama has never woven hats. They are made only here in Montecristi,” he grumbled.
    While Señor Delgado has completed the brims of untold thousands of hats, he buys the unfinished products from the true master weavers in Pile, a village lost in the lush hills that rise above the barren Pacific coast an hour to the south.
    No tourists visit Pile, where pigs and chickens root among ramshackle houses and the master weavers ply their trade, uncredited and poorly paid. Here, the art is far from dying, merely because there is no alternative to the traditional handicraft.
    Manuel Alarcón has been cutting toquilla palms and weaving hats for 59 years, since he was ten. For reasons that no one can remember, the people of Pile make the body of the hat but never finish the brim. Señor Alarcón and his four sons weave beautiful hats with frayed edges that are finished and then trimmed by razor by the men of Montecristi, but they never earn more than $200 a month.
    Señor Alarcón has never questioned the ancient status quo. “It’s our custom to give it to the people of Montecristi, and they are the ones that make money. They ask the people of Montecristi for them, not us. Look, they say this is a Panama hat. It’s not. It’s not even from Montecristi. The really fine ones are from the countryside, and not just anywhere, but here.”
    But competition from foreign hatmakers and the fishing industry has taken its toll. In Montecristi, no one actually wears a Panama: all the men sport American-style baseball caps. Señor Delgado’s wife, Victoria, said: “No one uses the hats here. Only my father. He was the only one. They wear baseball caps now. If someone puts a hat on, they make fun of them,” she said.
     
  6. cookie

    cookie I'll Lock Up

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    Toquillas

    Thanks I thoroughly enjoyed that - having already watched the video on their manufacture in Strandhatters in Sydney.
     
  7. Panamabob

    Panamabob Call Me a Cab

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    So, how do the weavers start making money?

    Is it to charge so much for a hat that you can afford to give 5% back to the community?

    Is it to sell the hats at a reasonable rate as to sell hundreds or thousands more a year than normal, therefore giving a reason for weaving?

    Anyone, anyone?
     
  8. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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    Fifty-fifty.

    • Only this ancient and accepted business model can save the art of high-end Montecristi from dying out.
    • 50-50% is the only partnership at whatever pricing level, BTW it was the custom between artist and retailer for centuries.
    • What master-weavers in Pile produce is namely art. What is done in Cuenca is industry. The only thing both hats are named Panama hats.
    The fact that each Cuenca hat industrial (Ortega, Dorfzaun, Serrano) collects Montecristi finos shows this clear distinction. They never collect their own hats they just make a living from that.
    • Weavers know exactly that they weave the hat for many months and all the other steps in the finishing take few weeks. They know that their art is sought after, since all kinds of strangers (Incas, Conquistadores, Creole, Gringos, etc.) have pilgrimed to their shacks since centuries from all corners of the world for reasons.
    • In the 50-50% model the retailer calculates his sale price in a way that his part covers his expenses, costs, taxes and living. The artist accepts that his partner must travel, finish, block and dress the hat, maintain an exclusive shop, advertise the product etc. and all this costs him money.
    • Once the hat is sold, getting back the money to the partner in Pile is very easy: there are banks and WesternUnion! Or the partner must indicate the sales price and put the 50% in cash in the weaver’s hand when he returns for commissioning the next time. The wheel must not be re-invented.
    • Substituting the 50% with bargain prices plus some donations is unfair. It is cynical. Destroys goodwill.
    • Exclusive contract is OK. But without 50-50% it is also unfair. It reads like “As Long As Grass Grows or Water Runs” and destroys goodwill. That’s why this model is in the phase of “re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic”
    • Getting 50% from up-market prices of 10-25-30k for a hat would pay a decent life for the masters. And it would inspire talented young guns to continue, they surely would NOT want to leave their homes for shrimp factories or “to make some real money” as illegal immigrants somewhere in the US or Spain.
    • It’s 50-50% why weavers accepted Don Rosendo: they saw him spending his active life driving his car on dirt roads re-collecting their hats and working his tiresome hat-finishing trade. They all knew that he added another fifty percent to their price. This is how he rightfully earned his house(s).
    • Weavers only wish themselves the same amenities. …Live and let live!
    • The problem is that nowadays weavers know exactly from the outside world, unlike in the glory days of Panama; their emigrated relatives report first hand. They all see that decades of excellence in weaving ended up with a bamboo house for 63 yrs old Cenovio Espinal, one of the best - mentioned by name in the Panama hat book and an article...PanamaBob posted at FL pictures on the housings of the famous others: Simon Espinal and Manuel Alarcon…This misery is only possible in the tropics, the first winter would kill them in those “romantic” housings…
    • Just try to walk in their shoes. They see they have nothing to loose. It is only them who live in shacks from the long chain of people interested in the Montecristi finos! Manabi natives don’t wear Montecristi hats any more
    • Weavers have plenty of time to think about their situation while weaving. I believe that this activity is differentiating the brain cortex more than watching TV, playing PS2, browsing the web. The result of their work is the proof. It is true that they have not visited college. But they are not fools, trained monkeys nor bio-robots.
    • They are handling their misery with dark humor. It is the lack of 50-50% why they grin and joke once learning about partner’s sales prices and re-send similar partners. In their jungles they see mosquitos, leeches, vampire bats feeding on blood. Maybe they draw some parallels…
    • Once the last weaver stopped weaving for the above reasons, their “clever partners” from all around the world can go into the jungles of Manabi and begin weaving those extra hats themselves. They can finish and sell them at whatever price they want. There’s enough toquilla in the selva and everything is documented in photos and videos...The stock of a few thousand hat bodies worldwide will quickly run out in the days of global warming and cheap credit.
    • And once this happens even the sorcery of the best master hatter will never turn out a Superfino de Montecristi from unblocked sterling beaver, Milan wheat straw or Cuenca brisa bodies…
    • No biggie at all, there will be always enough baseball caps, paper hats and Cheap Cuencas labelled as Fino Fino Finissimo to shade the heads in summertime.
     
  9. Panamabob

    Panamabob Call Me a Cab

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    50-50% . I knew I should have charged more!:D
     
  10. cookie

    cookie I'll Lock Up

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    Hungary Bob

    Like the paprika in your Hungarian food your articles have spiced up the discussion of one of my favourite interests....toquillas and put some interesting international economic aspects to the endless talk of the dying trade.
     
  11. cookie

    cookie I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Sydney Australia
    Hungary Tom

    Like the paprika in your Hungarian food your articles have spiced up the discussion of one of my favourite interests....toquillas and put some interesting international economic aspects to the endless talk of the dying trade.
     
  12. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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    Dear Cookie,

    • Good point on my temper. Its genuine Hungarian. Lets get back to toquillas:
    • I think that the disappearing of Panama hats is a myth. Less politely put, a morbid marketing BS & justification for deterioration in quality.
    • Panama hats i.e. toquilla straw hats woven in Ecuador will continue to exist as long as:
    • Carludovica palmata grows in Ecuador, i.e.there will be the raw material.
    • People want to protect their heads from sunshine in hot summers, i.e. there is a demand
    • K. Dorfzaun and Homero Ortega, Serrano and their supplying weavers want to make a living. i.e. there are suppliers
    • Machine-blocked industrial Cuenca hats will surely exist. There will be always people who want to stay in Ecuador and who don’t have other options but to weave.
    • Montecristi hats will also exist the only question is Montecristi hats of what quality? A range which future weavers think is worth doing for the few dollars paid for them.
    • I think the names superfino fino-fino extrafino Montecristi will last much longer than the actual production and supply of high wpsi hats. E-bay sellers are clever.
    • Serious sellers (Brent Black, Casey Dalzell, PanamaBob) BTW fierce competitors of each other unanimously list weave counts at around 900-1000 wpsi already as rare gems, as museum reserve or fino fino.
    • They still offer a higher quality (1600-2000 wpsi or even 2500 wpsi) but either it is extremely expensive to get it blocked off-the-shelves from stock like with Brent Black, Milton Johnson or you must wait an eternity until you get it like from PanamaBob.
    • They work there with thousands of Montecristi hats passing through their hands. Therefore I take their word as expert opinion if you like. I can only speculate from my computer gathering info, trying to read between the lines… The articles I assembled here and the stuff I found on their websites (also great source of info + some self-marketing, never mind) says that weaving quality deteriorates even in Montecristi and the top-range in future will mean lesser qualities than it is today and much lesser quality than the glory days.
     
  13. Panamabob

    Panamabob Call Me a Cab

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    Really, 900-1000 aren't rare gems. The collective webmasters have taken great liberties and I don't take the time to rewrite the site. There are plenty of those gems available. It just seems that we sell more in the 500 range to most fellows. Also, when hatters by raw bodies, they rarely ask for anything in the 900-1000 range.


    You can thank the morals of some people for your personal commissioned hat "eternity." In late autumn, many of the hats I commissioned were sold to someone else, a man from Hawaii, because the weaver said that his kids were sick and he needed the money. Luckily, the weaver gave my money back and we started from scratch on several hats. It happened again last week with some of our hats, and yes, that same man from Hawaii was there in Montecristi/Pile. If many of the people in the industry had some morals and fortitude, we wouldn't have to wait for something that is rightfully ours/yours. Instead, many in the industry use playground bullying tactics to keep the weavers on a string by throwing just enough money to keep them hanging on. That kills the hatsellers who don't have deep pockets.
     
  14. rcinlv

    rcinlv One of the Regulars

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    Lost in time
    Vertical integration? The hatmaking industry in Ecuador seems to be (based upon what I've been able to read) a disjointed enterprise with families who collect the palm and turn it into straw, who in turn sell it to weavers, who then sell thier product to finishers, who then sell to brokers, who then sell to... The individual workers make a pittance relative to the end-sellers (such as Brent Black), and so fewer and fewer want to continue with a subsistence life and move into other industries.

    Vertical integration could help solve this problem, in essence keeping more of the revenues in Ecuador, and less on the beaches of Hawaii...

    Just a thought.

    RC
     
  15. Davidson

    Davidson One of the Regulars

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    153
    Location:
    US
    Hi PB,

    Some suggestions for a low-capital operation, worth what you are paying for them:)

    The first question is always "What *exactly* are you trying to accomplish?" Then, when that is crystal clear and agreed, focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. I assume what you ask above is the "mission statement", although it needs refinement. What weavers, what experience level, what locations, etc. Only weavers, not others involved in production?

    A quick Google search shows the median income in Ecuador is $2500-2800 US per year. Is that the target (on average)? Or higher? That's roughly 200-250 a month, or, since people with low incomes usually manage their money on a very short-term basis, $50 a week.

    Then run the numbers. $3000 / year for x weavers, y total business volume at z margins - you know, a business case.

    1. Find two people willing to help - one experienced business owner / manager and one who knows "the industry". Maybe you are or know these.
    2. Don't "charge so much you can afford to give back". Pay an increased price for the product to begin with. Pay weekly or biweekly or as each body is finished, if longer than 2 weeks. (maybe I am misunderstanding this)
    3. Concentrate on the web, ebay and supporting forums like this. No brick and mortar. But carry stock (selected carefully based on what the "sweet spots" are). One misses a lot of the market by not being able to provide "instant gratification". And use experienced people for your web sales, with a good sense of marketing, ad creation, cycling items, etc.
    4. Don't try to compete with anyone in Hawaii. Sounds like a situation that has to be (and can be) worked around to some extent.
    5. Don't try to be high volume. Machine-made paper hats produced in factories (e.g. from China) will crush you on cost.
    6. Be local to the suppliers. Work direct with each part of the value chain.
    7. Consider paying one or two of the best for training, teaching, process documentation, whatever you want to call it.
    Last. Take advantage of any government or NGO programs related to what you are doing. (This can be a real time consumer, and there's generally a lot of problems in that path, so you have to judge if it is worth it or not.) But at least be on good terms with local government.
     
  16. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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  17. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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    New York Times this time

    Hi all,

    I will continue posting links to interesting Panama hat articles as promised.

    So this is another from the New York Times. Dated 27 April 2007.

    SHOPPER'S WORLD; ECUADOR IS BRIMFUL OF PANAMA HATS
    By TOM MILLER; TOM MILLER IS THE AUTHOR OF SEVERAL BOOKS, INCLUDING ''THE PANAMA HAT TRAIL: A JOURNEY FROM SOUTH AMERICA,'' JUST PUBLISHED BY WILLIAM MORROW.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpa...75BC0A960948260&sec=travel&spon=&pagewanted=1


    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpa...75BC0A960948260&sec=travel&spon=&pagewanted=2



    I hope by now it is clear that I am not a shill for anyone.:)
     
  18. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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    Loss of Montecristi tradition…Beyond economics

    • Besides low wage situation of weavers there is another important reason for the loss of high-end Montecristi fino hats. It has to do with the loss of folklore and tradition. It is the loss of the toquilla hat WEARING tradition in the Manabi province of Ecuador…by its originators
    • Any tradition is only alive until it is organically embedded in every day life. When weavers quit wearing toquilla hats themselves that was the turning point.
    • Cuenca highlanders wear several hats – their number signalizes wealth- and wear the best pieces for Church on Sunday. They receive even less money for their hats but they have not alienated themselves yet from their produce.
    • Manabi natives were “discovered” by 16th century Conquistadores wearing batwing shaped toquilla hats. Remember the vampire skin story? At this time they did wear their own hats…I cannot imagine they simply refined their toquilla sombrero weaving skills since 4000 BC just to supply later Napoleon, Al Capone, US presidents and us humble FL members with Montecristi finos.
    • In the Panama hat book you see Don Rosendo the distributor and hat finisher wearing one unblocked hat body in Pile; BB uses pictures of old hat finishers with character faces wearing superbly blocked panama hats…I don’t know how much all this is staged, serving as nice marketing cliché…It is tell-tale that you never see recent Pile master-weavers pictures with toquilla hats unlike Cuenca weaver women…In Montecristi, local men are mocked by their own people if they wear them!
    • With a really alive tradition, weavers in the remaining weaver villages would compete among each other as to who wears the finest hat on his head, they would produce these gems woven for 8-12 months as family treasures like a wedding present or Church on Sunday Hat.
    • Weaving is downgraded merely to a source of income, making high-end hats for personal need isn’t practiced, and not paid for commercial purposes, nobody is capable to do them any more. Since weaving is all about money and there are easier ways of making money…high-end weaving is an endangered species.
    • Some old people continue the old path but the future weavers are more likely to make economic calculations.
    • With an annual total output of 5000 Montecristi hats and a dozen of the finest among them there is not much time left.
     
  19. Panamabob

    Panamabob Call Me a Cab

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    From my understanding, locals have never worn fine hats. The Montubios wear coarse straw hats in the fields. I'll take some photos the next time I can go down there. If you want to see Ecuadorians wearing fine hats, go to the bullfights in Quito.
     
  20. HungaryTom

    HungaryTom One Too Many

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    Location:
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    Why Montecristis are special...in every respect

    • I think this entire story of Montecristi hats and originators seem to be the odd man out inside Ecuador and South America…Reported mistrust between Quechua highlanders and coastland people might have ethnical reasons…Faces of Manabi locals, especially young girls resembling the beauties of Tahiti painted by Gaugin…The (weaving) culture seems to originate from somewhere in Polynesia… Weavers arriving from wherever in the Pacific met a fiber plant Carludovica palmata at its best shape in its entire distribution range. A toquilla unique like Carrara marble. Unique weavers and unique raw material meeting each other...A cultural hot-spot resulted
    • Why did they begin in the first place this painful weaving technique…surely not for exporting… in each culture it was originally religious worship and the reaching out for the transcendental that made people practicing bone-breaking work like that…surpassing the humanly possible...pain resulting in pearls of whatever art form…
    • The effort seems from the rationale viewpoint ”unreasonably” high and can not be measured in economics. Why would weavers weave 40-50 years ago a hat for 8-9 months, as long as a pregnancy?...In this sense it is true that these hats are of transcendent quality…recent performance of 3-4 months weaving is also “irrational”, priceless...the Panama hat book says weavers still check moon phases...Lunar cult reminiscence?

    We can say that everyone steps into a legend when meeting Montecristi...everyone does this in the own special way.

    • Meeting this legend is the reason why certain sellers/buyers get “irrational”, obsessed, ask/pay $$$$$ prices and that’s why there’s really no pardon in getting the high-end ones. Prince Edward sent his hatter in the 19th century to find him...to hunt him the best Montecristi available...Al Capone imported a weaver from there to weave exclusively for him...to each his own... In this priceless field/market segment –which is dwindling– the “air is very thin”…there will be “special operations” ...What did I mean?

    H. Thomas Hayden: Winning Hearts and Minds - Not

    "Civic action or developmental programs goes much further with local indigenous forces rather than foreigners."

    http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,Hayden_122203,00.html

    Just focus only on the quote and the title of the article and forget the military thing.

    Also remember the terms: "direct action operations and special reconnaissance".

    This is not only valid in theatre. But also commerce....Remember the repetitively exact timing?...competitor appears and strikes just in time...If the target is VIP...I mean expensive enough...they are worth doing
    …I’m afraid such competition tools will be applied even more enhanced in the future…financed from those priceless prices…until there is such a segment at all…5000 pieces/year output in ANYTHING creates a specialty market. Special people throughout the chain.

    • Rustic fiber hats made for farmers are available anywhere worldwide. Practical, rational...their market will also remain the same until there are farmers.
     

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