We all have a fantasy PR brief. You know the sort of thing: THE campaign you’d just love to take on. Mine would be to promote the Panama Hat for what it really is: a unique, hand-made straw hat that’s actually produced in Ecuador.
Not a lot of people know this, but the Panama Hat got its name because huge quantities of them were supplied to people building the Panama Canal to protect them from the sun. Sadly almost 28,000 people died during two phases of the canal’s construction from 1904 to 1914 (mostly from Yellow Fever, Malaria and landslides). However, the hat, made by Ecuadorian Indians, proved very popular with the workers. The association was reinforced when President Theodore Roosevelt visited the canal shortly after it was completed wearing – yes, you’ve guessed it – a Panama hat.
Over the last hundred years the hat’s popularity has exploded. You can pay $10,000 for a really good one in the US or pick up a pretty basic version in an Ecuador street market for $15. Great Panama Hat enthusiasts have included three Doctor Whos, Gene Hackman (in Superman 1), Winston Churchill and President Truman, not to mention legions of cricket spectators.
So, has the time come to start calling the Panama hat by its proper name? Perhaps not. The basic hat is still made by Ecuadorian Indians which they sell to factories for finishing, shaping, dyeing and styling. The export market is global. So why rock the boat? Besides, the Ecuador Hat, as a name, really does not carry quite the same romance and panache as the Panama Hat.