The Cuenca Story:
New Weavers, New Styles

A Man of Many Hats

When you’re the owner of a small business, you wear a lot of hats. Some of you can relate. And despite the fact that your business card carries “CEO” or some other important title, often the head honcho ends up doing whatever task needs to be done, no matter how menial. I like this part of being an entrepreneur. It keeps me humble and involved at all levels of my business.

Walt laying out Panama Hat bodies to dry

It was Thursday evening in Cuenca and already I had reconnected with friends, eaten like a king (langostinos and cold cerveza), and commissioned new styles of hats (more on that in a sec). Everyone warned me that the city would shut down in observance of Good Friday, and I was just saying adios to my partner Fernando, when a delivery of freshly-washed hat bodies came in from our weavers in the outskirts of town. Now normally Fernando, who is not only an incredible innovator who knows everything there is to know about Panama hats, but also the vice-mayor of Cuenca, delegates the task of laying out hundreds of hats to dry to his hat finishers. But it was Maundy Thursday and everyone had already gone home. So Fernando and I did what a lot of business owners do in situations like this one. We rolled up our shirt sleeves and got to work.

It was well into evening, and I had to chuckle as we laid out hats one by one. Here we were, jefe and presidente, staying late to ensure that each one of these Panama hat bodies received the proper treatment. For Fernando and me, our businesses are our babies. And like many business owners, we’ll do whatever it takes to make them successful.

Supporting New Weavers

I am so excited about what we’re doing in Cuenca. Brainstorming about ways to advance the cause of weavers, Fernando and I talked about the challenges new weavers face when first beginning to make Panama hats. We decided to make a commitment to buying hats from weavers who want to learn the trade, and I’m happy to report we came up with some great ideas for giving new weavers the opportunity to practice and perfect their art. The challenge is always to keep weavers weaving, especially weavers who are just starting out, so they have enough work to be able to support themselves and their families.

Walt and Fernando at Moreno Panama Hats

Foldable Hats

Now, you’ve probably heard how much I despise the practice of rolling Panama hats. It drives me crazy that other companies sell Panamas for a pretty penny, claiming they are travel friendly, when the fact is rolling a Panama hat is one of the quickest ways to turn a sharp looking hat into a rumpled, misshapen mess. However, we constantly receive requests for foldable, packable hats.

Fernando visibly shuddered at their mention, as would any producer who takes pride in the quality of his product. We would never sell our fine hats as roll-ups.

That’s when it dawned on us.

Why not offer hats with minor imperfections or a coarser weave as roll-ups, and at a great price too? Foldable hats would be the perfect hat for new weavers to practice making. And an inexpensive Panama hat is ideal for knocking around in the garden or packing in a suitcase for a quick trip to the beach.

So, we’re making the best of the nefarious practice of rolling handmade hats by offering foldable hats in the Optimo style. I’m comfortable with this way of selling foldable hats and actually looking forward to giving customers what they want without compromising the integrity of our headwear. The best part of it is, the purchase of these hats gives new weavers the opportunity to practice and perfect their weaving.

New Styles

We’re also going to start offering our Fedora and Outback style hats in four colors: semi-white (bleached), natural, black, and beige. We’ve restocked our Ultimate Outback Panama hats and are now offering this style with or without the SolarweaveTM UV-protective lining, depending on your preference.

We’ve got more in the works, but that’s all I can say for now. Hope you enjoy our new Optimo Foldable Panama Hat and the much-anticipated return (and reworking!) of our Ultimate Outback. ┬ác|:)

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