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Our People

The art of creating Panama Hats is woven into the fabric of daily life of the Andean mountain communities where our weavers live. Women weave on the bus, walking to market, on their way to the fields.  It such a part of  the fabric of life in Ecuador that in 2012 UNESCO declared that the art of weaving a “Panama” hat would be added to their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Intangible Cultural Heritage is a term used for knowledge, traditions and rituals which permeate the everyday life of a community, are passed down through generations and form an intrinsic part of their identity and culture. Weaving a hat from “paja toquilla”represents the cultural heritage of the entire community.

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IT IS TIME WE START TO WEAVE A NEW STORY THROUGH FAIR TRADE.

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The historic exploitation of underpaid weavers by unscrupulous middlemen means that this timeless skill is under threat. The younger generation, quite understandably, have been searching for alternative ways to make a living.  This has led to the community, where we work in Ecuador, having some of the highest rates of migration in the country, with 60% of children having at least one parent who now lives overseas. The destruction of family and community life has led to high rates of alcoholism, double the national rate of youth suicides and teen pregnancies are the norm.

We have heard of many people, including the children of our weavers, who are paying “coyotes”, people smugglers, to take them on the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico, across the border to the United States.  One of our weavers has a 15 year old daughter who walked most of the way from Ecuador to Mexico before paying a “coyote” to cross the border.  In the village where we work, women now out number men by 7 to 1 due to most of themen having left to work abroad.  In interviews conducted with our weavers, many of them have children living overseas and several of them did not even know in which country their children lived!

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Unlike the journey taken by most Panama Hats in the world, which pass through the hands of around seven different intermediaries (known as ‘perros’ or dogs due to their unscrupulous purchasing practices) Pachacuti works directly with our artisans in every step of the process, weaving, dyeing, blocking, finishing, to ensure that as much of the final value as possible remains in their hands.

Pachacuti pays a fair price which is monitored through interviews to ascertain the local cost of living and by measuring the price we pay against the government’s cañasta básica vital, the monthly market price of meeting basic needs for a family of 4.

We work with our weaving associations to break down the price of every style of hat to calculate the cost of the raw materials, the dyes, the overheads, the labour and the profit margin.

We provide ongoing training and investment, not just in design development and skills, but in self-esteem, human relations, costing of products and overheads, and health and safety.

We have piloted projects which demonstrate our commitment to our weavers, including becoming the first company in the world to be Fair Trade Certified under the Sustainable Fair Trade Management System in 2009 and piloting the Fair Trade Guarantee System in 2011, become the first fashion brand in the world to receive the new label. Our work on the 3 year EU Geo Fair Trade project involved the collection of 68 social, economic and environmental indicators. This has enabled us to measure our Fair Trade impact on 165 women, tracking progress over a three year period.

Since 1992, we have worked to preserve and encourage traditional hat weaving skills in Ecuador. The average age of weavers in one of our current association is 58 and we need to ensure this way of life is viable for future generations of Panama hat weavers. This is why, in 2015, we provided a substantial interest-free loan to help establish a new organisation working with younger weavers.