Cuenca's Culture of Handicraft
It's little wonder our hand-woven Panama hats come from Cuenca, the city often called the art capital of Ecuador. Cuenca is an artist's enclave. Crisscrossed by flowing rivers and quaint cobblestone streets, the lush beauty and artistic heritage of this colonial city provide natural inspiration for the many artists of Cuenca.
Eye-hand coordination is taught early in childhood, which explains the extraordinary number of Cuencan artisans. The diverse tradition of handicraft and Cuenca's artisan base prompted the UN to designate Cuenca a "city of cultural distinction," an award that fewer than 25 cities share.
Weaving is one of the many crafts unique to Ecuador; the art of Panama hat weaving is passed down from one generation to the next. Authentic Panama hats are individually hand-woven"each hat a unique expression of the artist who wove it. Weavers reside in and around Cuenca, where they have access to the straw indigenous to the region, hat finishers reliant on Cuenca's infrastructure, and weather conditions perfectly suited for Panama hat weaving.
The Cuenca Connection
Every single Panama hat by Panador is hand-woven in Cuenca. In fact, well over 90% of the world's Panama hats come from this incredible city.
Authentic Panamas are made from a unique straw that comes from a palm plant. The base of the Andes Mountains is the only place in the world where this palm grows in any quantity. Nearby Cuenca is uniquely situated for commercial weaving and finishing.
Cuenca first started Panama hat production in the 1850s. The oldest and largest Panama hat exporters are located in Cuenca. To properly block a hat, commercial hat finishers require dependable electricity and quality water to generate steam. Most commercially-finished hats are finished in Cuenca because the city is able to provide these utilities.
A Mountain Retreat
Greater Cuenca has a population of nearly half a million, making it the third largest city in Ecuador. Because Cuenca sits near the Equator and has an elevation of over 9000 feet, the temperature ranges from 50-85 degrees, an ideal climate for both tourism and Panama hat weaving. Very few hotels and homes have heating or air conditioning; these are simply not needed.
Cuenca's perfect weather, beautiful surroundings, modern comforts, quality health care, delicious food, exceptional handicrafts and a thriving arts culture (all for an incredibly low cost) have prompted International Living magazine to name Cuenca a "Top Retirement Haven" for years. Expats flocking to Cuenca point out how exceptionally the city has preserved its colonial heritage. From renaissance cathedral domes to terracotta tile roofs and plazas filled with flowers, it's no wonder Cuenca's historic downtown has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A Great Place For Business
It was actually leather that took Walter Pieper, the president of Panador Hats, to Cuenca in the first place.
The supple lambskin of Panador's Leather Jackets requires hand finishing. One mistake will leave puncture marks in the leather and ruin an entire piece, which is why Pieper decided to rely on the unparalleled hand-eye coordination of Cuencan artisans.
It didn't take long for Pieper to fall in love with Cuenca, the warmth of the people, and the exceptional talent of weavers, leatherworkers, and hat finishers alike.
I speak for all of us at Panador when I say: we love doing business in Cuenca. In our ten years of working and traveling to Ecuador, we have developed many warm friendships and business relationships, and we've come to rely on the industry, innovation, and skill of our partners in Cuenca.
We count our partnership with Cuenca a privilege and a calling.
Click here to read more.