CAH-GYE, the beginning of a partnershipEdgar Sanchez (August 10, 1963) and Alejandro Lecaro (February 18, 1962), both Ecuadorians, had their first encounter at age 12 at the German School Humboldt (CAH) of Guayaquil. In 1981, both graduated from promotion # 13, unaware that two years later would begin together a journey from Ecuador to the world.
In 83' they began selling various Ecuadorian crafts from tailored clothing to Andean music instruments, all in a small shop in the center of Guayaquil.
Their first exhibition was during the most important indigenous market in South America (Saturdays in OTAVALO). Next step was a fair in Duran where well-known artists such as Miami Sound Machine Gloria Estefan were attending. During their presentations, the musicians were using Ecuadorian hats made of natural fiber and also known abroad as Panama Hats. This resulted in both partners, the urge to start marketing this iconic product of Ecuador.
1986 marked the Atlantic "cross-over" of these young entrepreneurs, carrying with them the advantage of the German language to open roads before unknown to Ecuadorians.
With a cloth on the floor and their products, they began in a flea market: Rosenhof in Zurich (Switzerland). Following the door to door strategy, they met their first European customer: Dr. Urs Grütter (owner of the upscale store called "The TUMI HOLDING AG" established in Switzerland, Germany, and in the USA).
First contact with the German Chamber
"Who can speak two languages crosses borders, but trilingual unite cultures. "In 1989 they contacted the Ecuadorian-German Chamber of Commerce, to get financial support and exhibit at trade shows. Two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ecua-Andino had been part of an international fair in West Berlin. That year they had two Norwegian customers, who saved the company from bankruptcy.
The beginning of a journey: 25 years as part of elite European fairs.Ecua-Andino has positioned itself as the No. 1 exporter of finished natural fiber hats in the world. This has partly been due to the multiple exhibitions across the globe: France, Germany, USA, China, Japan, Spain, Austria, Greece, Australia, among others.
New approach: the natural fiber hatThe different personalities of both partners: Edgar, the businessman and devoted to numbers and Alejandro, developing creativity in the collection each year, made the company have a new direction, pointing their attention to the most famous Ecuadorian product known as "Panama Hat".In the mid-90s, the brand image is strengthened, and from there, Ecua-Andino began to prevail on the international catwalks, submitted to the hat as an essential, high-end fashion accessory. Ecua-Andino has managed to combine South American identity with European vision of fashion.
Evolution of classic hatAt first the white traditional classic model sold very well, but as time passed, more models, colors and innovative forms of ribbons were introduced. So the image of the typical white hat with black ribbon, which was accepted as "the only Panama Hat" had evolved.In 2013 the collection called "SANDALS PANAMA ECO", a beach footwear that combines the genuine Panama hat fabric and some leather was launched. Its preparation likewise remains 100% Ecuadorian.
Venture projects are generating employment in rural areas of Ecuador.Undoubtedly, the most important highlights of Ecua-Andino are social work and economic boost given to the various villages in the Coast and Highlands of Ecuador.Alejandro spoke about it in an article in The Hat Magazine: "When I travel to Liberator Bolivar and see how this small town has gained confidence and made progress, I feel very proud. Women stand out because they learn this skill easily and teach other members of their community. In 2001 there was only Mrs. Mary with the ability to weave a hat today they are almost 800. This is evidenced not only here but in neighboring villages. There are small shops along the road, where women sell these and other crafts and this has helped them”Currently Ecua-Andino offers job opportunities to more than 3,500 freelancers scattered around eight provinces in the country and to 50 employees at their main office and workshop.
AcknowledgementsEcua-Andino is the creator of the Ruta del Sombrero, which starts from Barcelona Sinchal to Montecristi. Visitors can learn all the Panama hat process and likewise can observe the ancient weavers in full action. The Ministry of Tourism in Ecuador gave us a prize in 2006 for our valuable contribution to tourism development in the country.
Major customers worldwideEcua-Andino has been invited to participate in many sports events like the Rolex Golf Tournament Saphir (Palmas), Lorena Ochoa (Mexico) and the Cartier Polo event in Dubai. Also attending every year the most important event in Paris, at the Roland Garros courts, and during the World Cup in Germany 2006, 30,000 hats were bought by the German company BZ-COM, an expert in marketing and tourism promotion.
VideosThe Ecua-Andino marketing department and design have consolidated the company worldwide. They have been able to captivate the fans and have left their mark on the contemporary fashion world. Ecua-Andino was the first hat brand to organize launching videos. Ricky Cohete, Ecuadorian photographer who lives in the US is the video director for the past launching videos. Each year is implemented a different style in the video, exploring Ecuador and various expressions of Ecua-Andino.
The Premium lineIn need to offer a premium line to another market sector, which aims at a higher quality and classic style, a new brand was developed: Don Belisario, a tribute to Edgar Sanchez’s father, one of the founding partners.