Very few times in life does a person get to experience something that truly changes you. Here at Bailey, we pride ourselves in celebrating craftsmanship and heritage. It means celebrating things that were simply done better years ago and continue to be relevant, as they seem to bring a grounding balance to the maddeningly fast changes that occur in 2017.
Traveling across Ecuador to document the age-old process of making a Panama hat reminded me once again how the skill of craftsmen making such a fine product cannot be replaced by machines.
There were many more steps than I imagined in the process. We traveled miles on foot into the jungle off the coast of Ecuador to cut the Toquilla stalks at just the right time. It was 92 degrees in April. “Wow, amazing there are no bugs,” I commented. “Oh, that is because this is winter.”
The stalks get sliced open to reveal a fan of leaves inside. Using what seemed like a finished nail, men slice lengthwise to make them thinner. And they slice again. And again. They look at each ‘paja’ leaf and discard any that don’t look perfect. It gets boiled, dried, smoked, dried and then transported all over Ecuador where weavers, mainly women, buy the best ones. The longer the better for wider brims.
Weavers can take from a day to weave a ‘basic’ Panama Hat to up to two months to weave ONE hat….the Maserati of Panamas…the ‘fino’. Or the Montecristi, which is a whole other process. Imagine cutting about 50 or so hairs on your head and weaving them together. Perfectly. While leaning over. What results is a hat body that looks like fabric.
Remember the hat still needs to be bleached, dyed, dried in the sun, stretched, blocked. And only then can you think about what trim to put on it.
What I have seen has humbled me as a professional. As a human. As a hat lover. I felt an enormous amount of respect to see people really cherish what they do. Their dedication to perfection is in the blood of these most humble and proud people. For the sake of making a perfect hat.-and for the sake of preserving an art.
Bailey honors and celebrates one of the oldest crafts of our time and the artisans of Ecuador who keep it alive. We hope this video does you justice.
- Paula Calvert