As part of my research efforts looking for other panama hat sellers in the US, I recently came across Stephanie's shop - La Rubia Key West - in Key West, FL. I had the opportunity to talk to her for a few minutes and we discussed about several topics related to her business and panama hats in general.
A little background
If you read her website, you'll see that it all started with Stephanie's mom moving to Ecuador for retirement and Stephanie becoming attracted to panama hats in Cuenca during one of her trips in 2014. Cuenca is one of the main places in Ecuador where panama hats are made. She decided to open a store back home in Key West and that's how it all started.
Why are Panama Hats different than other hats?
Stephanie and I started talking about what sets panama hats appart from other more traditional hats. She was quick to point out that the two main differentiators are their history and relation to culture, and their fame as a fashionable and sustainable item. Panama hats have been woven by hand in Ecuador since the beginning of the 20th century and they have a very rich history. Their reputation as a cultural item is undeniable - to the point that they were included in the UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage in 2012. Stephanie explained that panama hats are environmentally sustainable because the toquilla straw is a natural resource and the production process of the hats is very manual.
What has it been like interacting with Ecuadorian artisans?
Stephanie has a relationship with 4 weaver associations in Cuenca. She talked about the excitement and cooperation from the local artisans as they know that their product is being sold to international buyers. Of course there are always challenges with the language and logistics but those are quickly overcome by the good relationships she has with the weavers. Stephanie explains that by importing hats from Ecuador she is also helping sustain the culture back there and helps families of weavers keep the jobs they love. So in a way, the art of making and selling panama hats is also culturally sustainable.
Best place to use a Panama Hat?
Anywhere really (and I totally agree with her)! She mentions you can use a panama hat not only under the sun, at the beach or at the pool; but also at night to dress up. Key West is a very laid back place so many people use them everyday. There are also other special events where hats tend to be very popular such as the Kentucky Derby.
How can we increase awareness of Panama Hats in the US?
Stephanie believes that the best ways to increase awareness are social media and education. She often finds herself having to educate some of her customers in the store on where panama hats come from (hint hint - they are not from Panama) and why they are special. A lot of these education can happen on the internet and in social media (this is actually one of the goals of this blog!). She also thinks that the sustainable characteristic of panama hats can be leveraged to increase their awareness and popularity.
I'm very thankful to Stephanie for spending time with me to talk about panama hats. You can check out her website! And, if you are ever in Key West, FL, please don't leave without stopping by her store - La Rubia Key West. I'll definitely visit the next time I'm in Florida!
In the meantime, if you are in New England, check our offer below and drop by our store to learn more with Latitude Zero Panama Hats!