Hats off to Ecuador


Ecua-Andino brings its country's traditional headgear to Bangkok

A hot ticket item among Hollywood superstars – and inscribed on the list of intangible cultural heritage by Unesco since 2012, the Ecuadorian Panama hat now has a presence in Bangkok with the recent opening of Ecua-Andino at Central Chidlom.
Alejandro Lecaro, chief executive and co-founder with Edgar Sanchez, brought along his daughter Alejandra to the launch and spoke about the wonders of this hand-woven natural fibre hat from Central America that has long covered many renowned heads. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt, wore the Ecuadorian hat while visiting the construction site of the Panama Canal. His picture was displayed all around the world and made his headgear so famous that it became known as the “Panama hat”.
Since then, the hats have become headgear for several leaders including former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and a must-have fashion item among superstars and celebrities like Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Ines de la Fressange, Katy Perry, Monica Bellucci, Jessica Alba, Kourtney Kardashian and Heidi Klum. 
“For the past 35 years, Ecua-Andino hats have been among the most popular. Our hats are known and much loved in Europe, America and Asia. My partner and I were classmates and now our daughters have started to get involved. They benefit from a combination of European education and their Latin roots. We believe this is priceless for the future of the brand. 
We have also travelled a lot so as to catch up with the unique fashion sensibility and worldwide trends and learn what our international clients want. This is the main secret of Ecua-Andino. We want everyone to feel that a Panama hat is a must-have item for men and women,” he says. 
The headgear is made from hand-woven natural fibres of the carludovica palmata or toquilla trees found in Central America. The fibres are soft but durable, and when woven into a hat, give it its beautiful detail. Thanks to the craftsmanship, the first shop in the centre of Guayaquil became very successful among travellers and today the hats are produced by more than 3,500 artisans in five provinces. Some 200,000 hats are exported every year. 
“We handle every process. We have our own farm and take care of the harvest of the raw materials, as well as the cooking process of the fibres, then the weaving techniques. That is how the brand can control the quality of such a unique style.”
Ecuadorian craftsmen use the finest young shoot of natural straw from the toquilla palm to elaborate each hat. 
The stalks are split using a special tool with a metal needle then tied into bundles (known as “cogollos”) before being boiled for about 20 minutes, with each batch stirred during the whole process. Once the cogollos are cooked, the artisans take them out of the cauldron and hang them on strings to dry in the sun. The finest fibres are then selected for the hats.
The weaving of the hat begins with two straws making a circular “button” at the centre of the crown. It can take one week to six months to make a hat depending on its quality and the thinness of the straw. Interestingly, only in the first hours of the day and the late afternoon is the combination of light and freshness right for sewing the hat. 
Once the weaving is completed, the craftsmen tie the end of the brim and gently hammer the hat to get the weave even and then press it with an iron from crown to brim to avoid the brim falling apart.
Ecua-Andino has managed to combine South American identity with European vision of fashion. There are various styles and collections for customers to choose from, available in two main categories – natural fibres and natural wool. 
Apart from the Sunshine Classic, Brush Boater, and For Hatters collection, new styles and colours have been introduced to Thailand including the Sunshine Dumont, an ode to the sun. 
“Each year we develop two collections that are presented in Paris,” Lecaro says.