freya founders ecuador travel diary

These Pics of Quito, Ecuador, Will Give You Travel Envy

The duo behind luxe accessory brand Freya take us along to meet the artisans weaving their straw hats.

By: Noah Lehava

Is it really a vacation if you aren’t wearing a straw hat? Founders of luxe panama hat brand Freya don’t think so. And, if we’re being honest, neither do we. They let us scroll through their camera roll and picked out their favorite moments from their recent trip to Quito, Ecuador, where they met with the artisans who weave their Panama hats. “Ecuador is the only country in the world that makes Panama hats, so we discovered Quito and Ecuador through our desire to produce hats with the world’s most accomplished, authentic weavers. This was our first visit! We just got into the business when we launched our first collection last summer and traveled there to watch our second round of production and to work with the artisans on specific designs,” founders Lindsay McConnon and Linsay Radcliffe tell us. Peruse through the below to see how your favorite straw hats are made. You may just get some travel envy, too.

“This is the view of Plaza San Francisco in old town Quito from the patio on the roof of the Casa Gangotena boutique hotel.

“Quito was the first city in the world to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Built upon the ruins of an Inca city, the well-preserved city center features a blend of traditional architecture from the 16th to 18th centuries.”

“A lead artisan from remote villages gathers hats from other artisans to bring to market. These hats are unblocked (meaning the form of their crown has not taken shape yet). They are also untrimmed, as you can see the palm strands still extend from the hat.

“Straw is initially collected from the Toquilla Palm plant. It then goes through several cycles of treatment, where it is soaked in water and other organic substances to soften the fibers, stripped into small threads, and dried in the sun. Each hat then starts at the center of the crown with a circular pattern, which the weaver creates as she moves through concentric circles of weaving. Sometimes the weaver begins the hat with straw that is already dyed a specific color (in the case of multicolor patterns). Sometimes the hat may be dyed after it is woven (in the case of a solid-colored hat). Some hats remain in their natural straw coloration. Most hats go through a blocking process, which involves a large heated iron that stamps the shape of the crown.”

“Every Freya hat is made by hand and takes an artisan an average of two days to weave. Artisans invent their own patterns, and we collaborate with them on new designs.”

“Here is co-founder Linsay Radcliffe standing at an artisan’s home in the high Andean mountains where many artisans live on hillsides above 9,500 feet in elevation.”

“We met through our kids when we both lived in San Francisco. Linsay was interested in starting a hat box company and approached me to help her—I had extensive retail industry experience. Our initial concept grew organically to encompass hats. One thing we love about traveling together is that we both have a deep appreciation of art, and we love to hunt out art in all of its forms throughout our travels. We also love the interactions with people and learning about their lives and their culture.”

Co-founders Lindsay McConnon & Linsay Radcliffe (left to right)

“An artisan beginning a new hat. All of the weavers are women, and they support their families by tending the land (sustenance farming), taking care of the children, cooking, and weaving hats, which are their sole source of income.”

“Two artisans with co-founder Linsay Radcliffe looking on. Many of the artisans visit each other’s homes during the day to weave in a more social environment, chatting and listening to music as they weave. Both artisans pictured here are wearing traditional Bolivian skirts and sit on low wooden stools. They wear their own hats to protect their skin from the sun.”

“Here we are with an artisan at her home. What’s nice about visiting the artisans is learning how they live and how integral the craft of weaving is to their everyday lives. They are weaving all day alongside their other domestic responsibilities. Their friends and relatives visit, and they all weave together, so there is real community around their craft. We love learning about their families and their lives, and sharing with them photos of our families back home. The woman in this photo had been weaving since she was a young child. She said that by the time she was 10, she could weave with her eyes closed. They all are required to finish high school before they are permitted to weave full-time.”

“Here, artisans [are] beginning new hat projects. These women all claim to have learned the craft as young children and could complete the most complicated hat design by age 10. Their daughters all attend school in the village, but learn the craft during their free time.”

“Linsay’s visiting an artisan home in the high Andean mountains. Funny enough, we had a drink called rompope that came from a flask that they passed around to us. It was created by our hostess and was the color of yellow milk. It was quite good and tasted like spiked eggnog!”

“We love this design because there are patterns of small holes in the sides of the crown, yet the hat has a solid weave at the top of the crown and around the brim. Even though the hat is made by hand, the holes are spaced beautifully and symmetrically. The design would allow the air to flow through the crown in a nice way on a hot day, while still maintaining optimal sun protection for the face.”

“We’re so inspired by Quito. These houses are made by hand using ancient techniques, yet they withstand the test of time. The materials are natural and easily accessible from their surroundings. Adobe homes are both naturally insulated and extremely strong. We love learning about architectural materials that are unique to us but traditional to other cultures.”

“Palm fronds drying in the sun above an Andean village. Some villagers specialize in preparing the palm to be woven by other artisan villagers.”

“Palm fronds being prepared by villagers, as part of the weaving process.”

“Andean villagers with their herd of sheep, carrying hay on their backs. Note the palm fronds in the woman’s right hand. She is weaving a hat during the day as she tends the sheep.”

“An example of the intricate door detail typical of traditional Ecuadorian architecture. What’s amazing is how intricate the details are. Many of the doors are hundreds of years old and are their own works of art.”

“We love walking around on foot so that we can hop into little stores and interact with people on the streets. It’s fun to discover new stores and cafés that are off the beaten path. We particularly love finding unique buildings that reflect some sort of intricate architectural element. We met an artist who lived in a traditional Ecuadorian building with an open skylit courtyard, and he showed us his work, which was hanging throughout his home/studio.”

“We loved the gold relief and the pattern of the wood blocks on the door. Each one was a little bit different when you looked closely.”

“Courtyard of the Casa Gangotena boutique hotel, which occupies a Colonial-period mansion on the Plaza San Francisco. There is a patio on the roof with a 360-degree view of Quito. The primary view overlooks this very old plaza filled with churches and beautiful old buildings. Off in the distance, you can view the many cathedrals and church towers in the old town of Quito. The building itself has a long history, and it’s walkable to many of the wonderful sites in Quito.”

“Old-Town Quito at sunset.”

“Linsay is selecting traditional Ecuadorian treats from a dulcería. Our favorite treat is the toasted coconut, which is thick chunks of coconut roasted with sugar. It is sold freshly cooked and warm on the streets. The smell is divine.”

“Linsay in front of a traditional doorway.”

“Linsay is walking down the ancient Santa Ana alley alongside the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Cuenca. There are numerous courtyards neighboring this alley with artisan shops and cafés. Linsay is carrying our rattan hat box, where she is collecting inspirational designs and souvenirs that we had found that day.”

“Lindsay gazing at the doorway of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Cuenca, Ecuador.”

“Hats that have been brought to market from the villages are ready to be trimmed, blocked (formed into crown shapes), and dyed.”

“Lindsay in front of a dulcería sampling treats.”

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