So why go to Suhuayo? For the
Known all over
the world for their quality hats, La Providencia has a
factory in the town of Suhuayo, Mexico. Making handmade hats for
over 8 decades, Roberto Avila
proudly continues the tradition of his father, Don Susano,
emphasizing quality and style.
Just ask anyone
on the street where the hat factory is, and you will be promptly
directed to this location. For three generations hats of braided
palm or wheat have been produced here.
Above you see
Daniela Avila, daughter of Roberto, 4th generation hat producer
inviting us in.
Inside, hats of
all sizes, shapes and styles line the shelves. These models have
fine piping on the edges of the brim and tooled leather bands around the
center. Air holes for head ventilation are on both sides of the
hat to keep the head cool during hot weather.
sombreros bear names such as Algas Gallera, Quemado, Speedy
Gonzalez, Truman E.F. and Pintado Corto. Braided by hand and sewn
individually by sewing machine, the factory produces over 200 hats
in a day. If they have a large order, they can rev up their
production to 1,000 hats per day or more.
center band on these hats are made of genuine horsehair.
One can hardly
imagine how many different styles there are until you observe this first hand.
Some have delicate cow leather trim around the center for decoration or
as you can see,
finely embroidered edging on the sombreros in the back
line. The embroidery 'thread' are grasses from the lakes in the
area, harvested and pounded to make them pliable. You might have
seen belts with the same patterning on them. These embroidered
edgings take lots of time and are highly prized.
A close up of the
hand braided palm used for the making of hats. Starting with a small
circular coil, the braid is sewn row after row to make both the cone
for the head piece and the brim.
This is a wider braided wheat. These supplies come from the Mexican state of
depicts the Avila family with all of their generations represented.
You can see the traditional manner in which the hats were woven and
sewn. In 1930 the factory was upgraded from using the foot pedal
sewing machines to electric sewing machines.
In the 'olden
days' these were all sewn together by hand.
This is the 'cone' part
of the sombrero before the brim is attached. They start in the
center with this cone and work outward.
A closer look
will show you that this cone is waiting for its brim to be added.
Across the street
we found the other half of the factory, the place where the newly
sewn hats are brought over to give them their final form and clear
finishing. These molds are made from aluminum; different styles,
different sizes. The form must be heated before the palm or wheat
hat is placed upon them to be shaped.
Before this man
puts the hat-to-be-pressed on the aluminum form, he has already done
He has lit the
gas-fired machine and checks for the correct temperature by wetting
his fingers, touching the mold, and watching how fast the moisture
sizzles and disappears. He then sprinkles water over the woven braid
of the hat so that when it is heated on this press, the steam will
easily create the form from the mold.
There are two
molds used in this process: one on top to press and stretch the straw hat onto the bottom
Sometimes the hat
needs to be pressed more than once to be sure the exact form is made
and it is properly set by the steam heat. The dryness and quality of
each hat is checked by this experienced worker before pressing the next one.
some hats are 'glazed' with a type of glue put on both sides with a
hard bristle brush by
these men. You can see the glue build-up on their aprons. This
makes a lacquer finish that is weatherproof and gives a hardened strength to
the hat. These hardened sombreros cannot be
folded for travel.
delicate colored woven patterns of the hats for decoration.
glazing, they are returned across the street for the final touches
of trim, tassels and under-the-chin straps. These hats have a cloth edge finishing.
The black and
white braid you see here is made from two colors of genuine horsehair.
Each hat calls
for a specific adornment, depending on the style. This brown trim is
hand punched cow leather and is attached with glue to the center seam of the
hat. The horsehair braids are in the background waiting to
be applied to the proper hat.
hat, with its hard glazed finish, was very popular years ago, and was
used for many things by the men who wore them. Since they held their
form under all kinds of stress, abuse and weather, men would go to the
market, buy the meat, fruit and vegetables they wanted and place
them on the top of their hats to carry them home. Carmen Miranda had
nothing on them!
This freed their
hands up to either walk or to ride their horses back to the Ranchero.
On Sundays, if
there were no seats available in the pews at church, a man would
place his hat on the floor and use it as a stool. It would easily
hold his weight and still keep its shape, they were that strong and
These hats of
yore were so
indestructible, they were virtually like a helmet. If a rider was
thrown from his horse, the hat would hit the ground first,
protecting the rider's head from being split in the fall. At the
time, the hats sold for about $100, and a man only need purchase one
in a lifetime.
Avila, the owner, is proudly wearing another sombrero style that his
Roberto is known
all over town for his passion and patience in making hats. In fact,
the story goes that the women in the city were very aware of his
reputation and valued this same passion and patience for their own
Here you see
Senor Billy, and Senor Dennis wearing hats made in Roberto's factory. When we asked Roberto why he doesn’t still make
those very durable hats today he laughed. He explained that he
wouldn’t still be in business! These modern hats of today are more affordable
and stylish, running about 120 to 180 Pesos. This way a man could have several in a lifetime keeping
supply and demand in a comfortable ratio.
daughter. Daniela is 4th generation in the hat making business and
she is certain to keep alive the tradition of fine quality in La
If you go to Sahuayo, make a stop to La Providencia
C.P. 59000 Sahuayo, Michoacan
Tele; (353) 5320650
(353) 532 0239