Fine strands of toquilla straw weave together stories from Ecuador, Panama
By Susana Madera
Quito, Mar 23 (EFE).- The fine strands of toquilla straw weave together stories from Ecuador and Panama and have inspired young fashion designers to create outfits that are on display on Thursday at “Wiñary 2023,” a gala fashion event that unstitches the past to weave together a present with new meaning.
The gala’s central theme is the toquilla straw hat and the building of the Panama Canal, both of which have something in common: Ecuadorian labor and confusion about the name.
Ecuadorian laborers participated in the construction of the interoceanic waterway, generating a huge demand for hats made in Ecuador and which were initially used by the workers to protect themselves from the sun and later by officials and politicians of the period after which, when it became internationalized from Panama, people began calling it the “Panama Hat,” despite the fact that its origin was and is Ecuadorian.
In fact, in 2012, UNECCO recognized the traditional straw hat made of Ecuadorian toquilla straw as part of mankind’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Although the Ecuadorian province of Manabi is the cradle of hat weaving, it was in the Andean city of Cuenca where on June 8, 1844, the toquilla straw Weavers School was founded, Ivan Borja, the dean of the Yavirac Institute, which is organizing the fashion show seeking to build identity via the study of heritage, told EFE.
Borja said that the toquilla straw hat is “a symbol of work and dedication,” both characteristics that have gone into the name of the show – Wiñary – which means “a growing gift.”
The toquilla straw hat is woven with the strands of a specific palm tree that grows along the Ecuadorian coast. Farmers grow the toquilla plants and gather them, later separating the fiber from the green bark, boiling the latter to remove the chlorophyll and drying it with wood charcoal and then using sulfur to bleach it.
Jomaira Lugmaña, a teacher at Yavirac, told EFE that one of the outfit combinations – a shirt and jacket – was made in green specifically to show the original color of the raw material, while the corset that complements it is woven from toquilla straw, just like the hat that crowns the suit.
On another outfit, the designers used the color to make reference to pollution and the exploitation of nature: a blouse and shorts colored green, blue and black, with meshwork incorporated into the garments to recall the art of fishing in the area.
One haute couture outfit includes the color of the toquilla straw in its upper portion, which also has rhinestones sewn in to allude to the texture of the raw material, while the lower portion is in the colors of the Panama Canal’s waters and ranges from beige to blue.
The fashion show includes more than 70 outfits, including collections of “jeans wear”, “casual wear”, “active wear”, “vintage streetwear” and high fashion, made of “jean” fabrics, velvet and taffeta, among others.
A shirt and jacket combination for men into which pieces of toquilla straw are woven and another sports combo imprinted with the maps of the Americas and the Panama Canal are also among the creations of the students, who in preparing their designs expanded their knowledge about their heritage and culture.
Wiñary 2023 will also include a gastronomy fair featuring Manabi cooking techniques using ancestral products from the province: cassava or yucca, peanuts, green plantains and “sal prieta” (a mixture of ripe plantains, corn, peanuts, cumin and spices, all cooked/roasted and ground).
The products will be prepared using assorted cooking techniques to “try and get people’s attention and position Ecuadorian gastronomy, once again, in the thinking of locals and foreigners,” Sebastian Cañizares, the coordinator of the Ecuadorian Culinary Art course of study, told EFE.
“The food of Manabi is a range of colors, tastes and aromas,” he said, emphasizing that – although the products are all in general use in Ecuador – “in no other place do they use these mixtures, contrasts in flavors (and) aromas to achieve the experience of Manabi cooking,” which he described as “a rainbow” for the senses.