San Francisco del Rincón is the home of a tradition that is nearly two centuries old, justifying the claim by hat-makers that it’s the hat-making capital of the world.
Located in the metropolitan area of the city of León, Guanajuato, the town has been a hat-making center for over 180 years. The product that was intended to shelter farm laborers from the noonday sun is now sold in stores throughout the American continent, Europe and Oceania.
María Trinidad Rocha Sánchez’s family has been in the business for four generations, since her great-grandfather’s time. Today, along with her brother Jaime Alberto, she continues to earn the appreciation of her customers in Mexico and abroad.
The family business, which operates under the brands JRochaV and Rocha Hats, has accommodated changing tastes and fashions and today offers over 300 different models made from leather, fur, rice paper, fabric and even vegetable matter such as palm leaves.
“A palm hat,” Rocha told the newspaper El Universal, “is sold for 12 pesos [less than a US dollar], while one made of chinchilla fur can reach prices of 2,000 or 3,000 pesos [US $110 to 160, approximately].”
To this day, hat production remains a mostly artisanal process. While machinery is employed in some steps, the skilled hands of the people of San Francisco, called San Pancho for short, are still a crucial part of the operation.
The Rochas produce 12,000 hats per month and employ 25 people. Most of their production output, 95%, is for the foreign market, especially the United States.
Former president of Mexico Vicente Fox was among the company’s customers, and the two previous Catholic popes each received each a sombrero charro, or cowboy hat, as a present during their visits to the country.
According to a state foreign trade office, San Francisco exported 1.6 million hats last year, a notable figure considering the state’s total output of 1.9 million units.
Hat-making is the second most important economic activity in San Francisco, second only to the manufacture of sports footwear. Rocha claimed that 80% of all the hats sold in the world are made in her town.
One worry for local hat manufacturers is trade tension between Mexico and the United States, said Jaime Alberto. Restrictive measures would hurt them, a situation that would be made worse by a depressed domestic market.
Source: El Universal (sp)