In 1980, Stefan Schinzinger travelled to Ecuador. There he spent three months in Montecristi, the dusty hometown of the fabled Montecristi fino panamas.
An industrial designer, Stefan became fascinated with the light, soft, rollable hats, which provide perfect portable shelter from the equatorial sun. At that time, most panama hats sold in the United States were shellacked, which made them look good on store shelves, but also made them brittle, breakable and uncomfortable to wear. Stefan began importing panama hat bodies to California and designing hats that showcased their special qualities: lightness, cool ventilation, comfort, resiliency, packability. He started San Francisco Hat Company and transferred the same aesthetic to hats made of other straws, felts and fabrics.
Sally Kellman, co-founder and co-designer of San Francisco Hat Co, toured with and consulted on a United Nations panama hat project in Ecuador. The United Nations recognized in the panama hat industry an instance in which an indigenous craft has achieved worldwide appreciation and market, thereby giving artisans an opportunity to work for themselves and earn money without having to forsake their own communities and cultural traditions, and saw this as a model for the economic sustenance of other indigenous craft industries.
Stefan and Sally are still as passionate about hats as they were when they started the business, 35 years ago. They continue to search the globe for vintage hat moulds and keep true fine craftsmanship that they believe in.
All their panama hats are hand woven in Ecudor and completed in California. Each panama hat has a stamp of authenticity. The panama is a masterpiece of craft and utilitarian design—finely woven and breathable, lightweight, comfortably soft, rollable for packing. Each hat could take a special artisan 1 day to 2 months to create, depending on the shape.
Stefan selecting hats in Montecristi.