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Handmade Straw Hats

In April 2021, Gem Hats set out on an expedition to find the best quality straw hats to offer our customers. The most famous type of straw hat is considered to be the Panama Hat, but it the straw does not actually native to Panama. We did our research to discover the true story behind these famous straw hats and meet the incredible artisans who make them.


Jipijapa


The Panama Hat is a handwoven straw hat that is known for its breathability, softness and light weight. The original palm tree used to weave the Panama hat is native to a small town in Ecuador called Jipijapa (pronounced hee-pee-ha-pa). Unlike other common types of palm, the leaves from the Jipijapa plant are incredibly fine, strong and flexible, allowing artisans to weave the palm 25X more than the standard palm. The tightest weaves creates the finest of hats, providing more sun protection, a long-lasting shape and a soft, comfortable fit.


Becal, Campeche


Thanks to our friends in Mexico (the idea for Gem Hats started in Mexico City), we learned that Ecuador is not the only place where the infamous Jipijapa plant grows. In the late 19th century, the palm was introduced to a small town in Mexico called Becal. The Mayans began weaving the palm into hats, but had to weave them in caves as the palm requires high humidity levels to work with. Fast forward to present day, Becal is home of the Jipi Hat where you can find an entire town of locals dedicated to the art of hat-making.


Caroline, Gem Hats founder, in front Becal's town center statue.
An entryway to our first cave visit.

The top of a community cave utilized by 9 local families.
An artisan's work station at a family cave.

The Process


As fellow hat makers, we spent the week exploring the in's and out's of the famous weaving process. First, the palm leaves are picked from the jipijapa plant, a seemingly plentiful resource across the town. The leaves are then split down the middle using a fine needle to create the thin pieces needed for weaving. Once split, the thin palm pieces are washed, smoked, tinted and hung to dry, a process that takes 6-15 days. Artisans use a variety of local grains, fruits and veggies to dye the jipijapa.


Alma, known as the "grandmother of the cave" splitting jipi leaves.
Washed and split jipi leaves hanging to dry.
Naturally dyed jipi leaves hanging to dry. Aren't these colors beautiful!?

Once fully dried, artisans bring the prepped jipi palm to humid caves to begin the weaving process. They begin weaving each strand by hand on a traditional millinery wooden block. Depending on the thickness of the palm, the hats take anywhere between 5 days and 2 months to weave.


Artisans weaving hats at the community cave.
A handwoven baby hat ready for formation.

A community hat press in Becal.

The straw hats are then taken to the community press, a steal machine that shapes the crown of the hat through heat, steam and pressure. Once pressed, the hat is ready to wear, cherish and love!

The perfect beach hat!

Gem Hats


Gem Hats is proud to work with and support the artisans of Becal to bring the Jipijapa Straw Hats to our customers. Once we receive the Jipijapa Hats from our partners in Mexico, we add custom design features to each hat, adding to the uniqueness of each Gem that leaves our studio. Check out to instagram @gem_hats to see our custom designed straws.



If you have any questions about our artisan partners, please reach out to us at gem.hats.co@gmail.com.

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