BEIJING – The Ecuadorian Embassy in China promoted on Tuesday its typical Andean straw hats – known in their country of origin as “toquillas” but called “Panama hats” in the rest of the world – during an event at a Beijing university where two weavers explained and demonstrated the virtues of this age-old handicraft.
“The secret is to put a lot of love in it, and a lot of dedication,” one of the Ecuadorian weavers who went to China to promote these items told reporters.
Though known throughout the world as Panama hats, toquillas are originally from Ecuador, as UNESCO recognized in 2012 when it declared the weaving of the straw fabric from the Andean toquilla plant an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
These hats first went international early in the last century when workers building the Panama Canal used them as protection from the sun, then went on to share the fame of the famous men who wore them: Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosvelt, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Newman and more.
In Beijing, the Ecuadorian weavers showed that their repertoire goes well beyond the typical white hat with a black band – innovative shapes and eye-catching colors are also within their range of creativity.
The simplest hats take scarcely a day to weave, but the finer or custom-made versions can take months, always handmade with a strictly artisanal process from natural fibers, one of the weavers said.
Exports of this blend of light elegance and fine texture from Ecuador earned more than $7 million in revenues last year, the head of Ecuador’s Trade Office in Beijing, Luis Fernando Rojas, said.
The Ecuadorian ambassador to China, Jose Maria Borja, told EFE that trade contacts are being stepped up due to the import possibilities offered here by an increasingly prosperous Chinese consumer base.