It all started 30 years ago, when Jenny Froehlich visited the small villages of Cuenca, the third biggest city in Ecuador. The Ecuadorian mountains, the image of the Panamas drying under the Ecuadorian sun, and both the kindness and the rural life of the Ecuadorian people were enough for Jenny to fall in love with the art of making Panama hats. Although Cuenca is now a bustling major city in Ecuador, the highland weaving techniques and ways of life outside the city remain unchanged.
When Jenny began buying from Ecuador in the 1980s she felt that the weavers were not paid fairly for making such a beautifully handmade product. As she admits, “Back then, the demand was lower than the production, so weavers at the end of the week had to sell the Panamas to cover their essentials and, as a result, were selling them for a very low price. When I started buying, one of my main drivers was to avoid middle men and to pay a fair price to the weaver”.
Today, the business continues its long standing relationships in Cuenca which span over three decades. In the UK, the factory is based in the newly renovated Luton ‘hat district’ and employs staff as part of get-back-to-work schemes and apprenticeships.
The mother and daughter team started up in 2016 when Mavi stepped into the business after an 18-year successful global career in multinational. Mavi’s organisational skills and modern aesthetics combined with Jenny’s eye for timeless Panama hat fashion has resulted in a strong collaboration.
Mavi started to appreciate her mother’s artistic skills at play: she came to realise her mother was not only a hat seller, as she used to believe, but also a hat maker and designer! From Jenny’s point of view, she admires her daughter for her strength and her ability to adapt quickly to the challenges of a small company.