Ecuador, Majesa Panama Hats, Millinery
Jenny and Mavi run an Ecuadorian family business making Panama hats for men and women. Although they have tried other products over the years, they always come back to their passion. They specialise in Panama hats only; hats that last for a lifetime. The mother and daughter team work with a community of over 500 artisans in Ecuador who are independent, self employed weavers. After acquiring the woven straw, they manufacture the Panama Hats in a traditional Hat Factory in the historical centre of hat making, Luton. They operate from a restored Victorian hat factory and use traditional hat making techniques with machines over 100 years old. Jenny and Mavi are both accomplished hat makers and make many of the hats themselves, covering up to 12 processes in their small family factory. They employ five part-time workers who have all been trained by Jenny and skilled hat makers to learn traditional skills in finishing beautiful accessories.
Paja Toquilla, is a palm-like plant which is used for weaving Panamas and is harvested in the ideal tropical climate near the Equator. It is then cut, washed and dried, and taken to the local market to be sold to the weavers–historically, this was done on a Sunday before Mass for the straw to be blessed. Panama hat weaving is a cottage industry carried out in the simple homes of ordinary country folk in the districts of Manabi and Azuayr. It is a unique skill handed down from generation to generation. The strands from the plant are graded and then woven by hand, starting from the apex of the crown. This has to be done in a humid atmosphere. Concentric rings, or "vueltas" indicate where new strands have been started in the weaving process: it is the number of vueltas that determines the quality of the Panama.
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