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Weaving the Finest Panama Hat in History

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How much would you pay for the finest Panama hat in the world, handmade by the finest Panama hat-maker in the world? $5000? $20,000? $50,000? It’s a real question hanging in the air, as a Hawaiian-based hat dealer with contacts in Ecuador (where Panama hats are made, despite their traditionally misleading name) struggles to price the latest masterpiece from the hands of Simon Espinal, an unassuming 47-year-old artisan who spent eight months weaving an accessory the likes of which the world has never seen before.

The triumphant final product is described as “a creamy-white, silky-fine masterpiece averaging an astounding 4,000 pin-neat herringbone weaves per square inch; a weave so fine you'd need a jeweler's loupe to count the rows." As NPR reports, hat dealer Brent Black commissioned Espinal and promised him a steady salary over the long period of months as well as bonuses and a cut of the profits, which alone should stretch into five figures. He made the request not out of any desire for record-breaking profits, but out of curiosity—he wanted to know the true extent of Espinal’s unparalleled skill, and Espinal accepted in order to find out himself.

The extent of Espinal’s accomplishment is hard to grasp, even when compared to the usual standards for an extraordinary Panama hat. There are no enforced guidelines for grading Panama hats, as quality standards vary from one dealer to another. Even the commonly used term super fino, under which all of Espinal’s approximate three-hats-per-year output falls, is an unreliable metric by which to determine a subjective quality grade. The most objective measurement is the fineness of weave, or how many threads of toquilla palm straw are contained within a square inch of the hat. Black considers a hat with a weave count under 300 not worth owning, and one with a weave count over 900 to be exceptional. This new hat is off the charts. If records were kept of such things, Espinal would only be breaking his own: the previous best hats all hovered in the 3000 weaves-per-square-inch range, and most of them were Espinal’s creations as well.

Espinal’s hat was one-of-a-kind at the time of its completion and it looks to remain that way. He has no plans to ever replicate his feat, citing the physical strain on his eyes, as well as the intense mental concentration required to maintain focus on such an unfathomably delicate task. Espinal remains faithful to a cultural and family tradition, an art taught to him by his father Senovio. Until his death, Senovio was considered the finest weaver in Montechristi; now, the torch has passed to Simon. Black’s greatest hope is that Espinal’s masterpiece will end up in a museum, where it can join other truly great works of art.

[h/t: NPR]

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An Eco-Friendly Startup Is Converting Banana Peels Into Fabric for Clothes
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A new startup has found a unique way to tackle pollution while simultaneously supporting sustainable fashion. Circular Systems, a “clean-tech new materials company,” is transforming banana byproducts, pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, and flax and hemp stalk into natural fabrics, according to Fast Company.

These five crops alone meet more than twice the global demand for fibers, and the conversion process provides farmers with an additional revenue stream, according to the company’s website. Fashion brands like H&M and Levi’s are already in talks with Circular Systems to incorporate some of these sustainable fibers into their clothes.

Additionally, Circular Systems recycles used clothing to make new fibers, and another technology called Orbital spins those textile scraps and crop byproducts together to create a durable type of yarn.

People eat about 100 billion bananas per year globally, resulting in 270 million tons of discarded peels. (Americans alone consume 3.2 billion pounds of bananas annually.) Although peels are biodegradable, they emit methane—a greenhouse gas—during decomposition. Crop burning, on the other hand, is even worse because it causes significant air pollution.

As Fast Company points out, using leaves and bark to create clothing may seem pretty groundbreaking, but 97 percent of the fibers used in clothes in 1960 were natural. Today, that figure is only 35 percent.

However, Circular Systems has joined a growing number of fashion brands and textile companies that are seeking out sustainable alternatives. Gucci has started incorporating a biodegradable material into some of its sunglasses, Bolt Threads invented a material made from mushroom filaments, and pineapple “leather” has been around for a couple of years now.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
David Lynch's Amazon T-Shirt Shop is as Surreal as His Movies
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images

David Lynch, the celebrated director behind baffling-but-brilliant films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, is now selling his equally surreal T-shirts on Amazon.

As IndieWire reports, each shirt bears an image of one of Lynch’s paintings or photographs with an accompanying title. Some of his designs are more straightforward (the shirts labeled “House” and “Whale” feature, respectively, drawings of a house and a whale), while others are obscure (the shirt called “Chicken Head Tears” features a disturbing sculpture of a semi-human face).

This isn’t the first time Lynch has ventured into pursuits outside of filmmaking. Previously, he has sold coffee, designed furniture, produced music, hosted daily weather reports, and published a book about his experience with transcendental meditation. Art, in fact, falls a little closer to Lynch’s roots; the filmmaker trained for years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before making his mark in Hollywood.

Lynch’s Amazon store currently sells 57 T-shirts, ranging in size from small to triple XL, all for $26 each. As for our own feelings on the collection, we think they’re best reflected by this T-shirt named “Honestly, I’m Sort of Confused.”

Check out some of our favorites below:

T-shirt that says "Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"
"Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a sleeping bird on it
"Sleeping Bird"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt that says Peace on Earth over and over again. The caption is pretty on the nose.
"Peace on Earth"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a screaming face made out of turkey with ants in its mouth
"Turkey Cheese Head"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an odd sculpted clay face asking if you know who it is. You get the idea.
"I Was Wondering If You Know Who I Am?"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a sculpted head that is not a chicken. It is blue, though.
"Chicken Head Blue"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a lobster on it. Below the drawing, the lobster is labeled with the word lobster. Shocking, I know.
"Lobster"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an abstract drawing of what is by David Lynch's account, at least, a cowboy
"Cowboy"

Buy it on Amazon

[h/t IndieWire]

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