The panama hat isn’t actually made in Panama.
These distinctive straw creations – more accurately called Montecristis – are handcrafted by a small number of master weavers in the tiny, rural village of Pile in Ecuador.
The finest examples can take up to six months to produce and can fetch $25,000 apiece. But, the artisanal industry is under threat.
Manufacturers in China have flooded the market with cheap, machine-made hats, reducing demand for true Montecristis and putting weavers out of work. Ecuador’s own mass manufacturers, too, are selling factory-produced hats and sometimes pass them off as Montecristis.
In 2012, Unesco added the hats to the Intangible Cultural Heritage list, recognising the need to preserve the traditions, knowledge and skills passed down through generations of Pile’s weavers.
But with fierce competition and falling demand for the authentic versions, the last true panama hat could be made in the next decade.