You may have seen the iconic oversized hat designs of luxury resort label Sarah J Curtis on the heads of Australian celebrities and influencers but there is more to her collections than just a pretty accessory. Founded in 2013 by namesake designer Sarah Curtis after being diagnosed with melanoma when pregnant with her second child, sun protection became a necessity. Combining this with her love for slow design, Curtis began working with traditional Ecuadorian artisans to produce her gorgeous line of hats. The hats weave in traditional practices and incorporate her own design elements where possible, and the result is the much-loved Panama hats and iconic wide brims.
I saw that people were spending a fortune on their skin when all we really need to do is protect ourselves from the sun and it’s definitely cheaper to invest in a beautiful hat…to me it’s a no-brainer.” – Sarah Curtis
The Panama hat began as a simple, finely crafted straw hat, created to combat the blistering Ecuadorian heat and now this style of hat is being utilised worldwide for the same reason, in the ethical fashion entrepreneur’s case to combat the harsh Australian sun.
Curtis works with local Ecuadorian artisans using a traditional, ancestral weaving technique recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity which safeguards “intangible heritage elements” in order to preserve the diversity of heritage and help keep them alive. In this case, of course, preserving the weaving technique and the importance of maintaining cultural diversity and nurturing the skilful technique so that it can be passed down generations not only for its cultural relevance but for its social and economic value to the women of Ecuador.
Sarah J Curtis hats feature toquilla straw that comes from the Carludovica Palm Tree, which is found only in the coastal forest of Ecuador, making these hats irreplicable anywhere else in the world. The raw material of palm leaf buds from these trees is harvested sustainably, the ripe leaf buds are utilised without causing harm to the mother plant which allows for ongoing regeneration. The leaf buds are split open to get to the softest fibre which is in the core, this core fibre is then boiled in hot water to rid the leaves of the green chlorophyll which is l then hung out to air dry and become ‘toasted’ in the sun.
The processed straw is bought weekly at the straw market, each hat is then completely woven by hand taking an artisan one to five days to complete, depending on its brim length, weave pattern and fineness of the straw thread. Women in the Andes of Ecuador have become specialised in weaving hats, as if by second nature and it’s not uncommon to see these women walking about town and socializing whilst weaving.
Since its inception, Sarah J Curtis has influenced the wardrobes of Australia’s fashion elite counting Lily Donaldson, Jesinta Campbell, Rachel Finch, Pia Miller and Gala Gonzales as fans. You can see more of her collections including her woollen fedoras, boater style hats and resort wear at sarahjcurtis.com.
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