What is Raffia Straw? 

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Raffia straw comes from the raffia palm tree, native to southern Africa with a few species in South America and South Asia. Raffia palms most notably flourish on the southern African island of Madagascar. Madagascar is a humid, tropical rainforest with lush mountains feeding rivers into swamps. This tropical riparian and swampy environment is the perfect place for the raffia palm to flourish. The best raffia straw comes from Madagascar. There the raffia palm grows to its largest size with fronds up to 70 feet long, giving it the longest leaves of any plant on earth.

Due to its abundance, raffia cultivation and craftsmanship is a centuries-old tradition in Madagascar. Artisans have passed the skills and secrets of working raffia straw down through generations. Raffia straw is woven into mats, curtains, shoes, bags, baskets, and even intricate and beautiful dolls and sculptures.

For instance, it takes a team of these artisans over 40 hours to weave one of our Tanner Straw Bags

Is Raffia Straw Good Quality?

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Raffia straw is often considered one of the highest-quality natural fibers due to its durability, flexibility, and natural appearance. It is one of the main natural fibers used in the construction of our hats and the only fiber we trust for our straw bags. Raffia is a popular choice for weaving because it is lightweight, making it comfortable to wear, and has a natural, earthy aesthetic that many find appealing. Additionally, raffia is a renewable resource. However, the quality of raffia can vary dramatically depending on factors such as source, processing method, and grade of the straw. Our local Madagascan artisans use time-honored techniques in handcrafting + selecting the highest quality straw. 

Where Does The Best, Highest Quality Raffia Straw Come From? 

Authentic raffia is sourced from the segments of the leaves of the Raffia Palm (Genus: Raphia). While these palms are found in Asia and the tropical regions of South America, the highest quality raffia originates from Madagascar where the plant natively (organically/naturally) flourishes. 

How Is Raffia Straw Made?

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Our raffia straw, a hallmark of our Artisanal Straw Collection, begins its journey as the vibrant leaves of the Raffia Palm. Sourced from the finest palms found in Madagascar, the leaves undergo a meticulous process to transform into the luxurious material we use in our designs.

Once harvested sustainably, the leaves are carefully stripped to extract the long, fibrous strands. These strands are then dried and graded based on their length, width, and color, ensuring only the most exceptional raffia is selected for our hats. This process, conducted locally in Madagascar, not only upholds our commitment to quality but also supports the livelihoods of many families in the region.

The result? A sumptuous, natural material that embodies the essence of Janessa Leoné: craftsmanship, sustainability, and timeless style.

Is Raffia Straw Sustainable/Good for the Environment?

While raffia palms naturally grow and flourish throughout Madagascar, the plant is threatened by over-cultivation and even more by rice plantations, which have found the fertile swamps in which raffia thrives to be the ideal place for growing rice. We work with a specific team of artisans on the ground in Madagascar to ensure all of our raffia palm straw is cultivated in the most environmentally friendly and conscious way, focusing on support for the local community. Creating sustainable, well-paid jobs in the community is the only way to ensure the raffia palm tree is protected from the encroachment of industrial rice plantations and that the centuries-old skill of artisan raffia weaving continues to last for generations.

All of our raffia is grown organically, in the plants' natural environment. We only select the highest quality of raffia palms to cultivate, which leaves more raffia palms untouched where they can flower and seed, creating a natural sustainability cycle that also allows us to ensure the top quality of all of our raffia products. The harvesting process is sustainable, involving the stripping, drying, and grading of the leaves based on strand length, width, and color. This local process not only ensures premium quality but also supports numerous families in Madagascar by providing them with a livelihood.

Not all raffia is created equally. We chose the highest quality raffia, however raffia can also be created synthetically. Synthetic raffia is made primarily from cellulose (plant cell matter) and polypropylene (a common plastic). While synthetic raffia is cheaper than quality cultivated raffia, it is not as strong or durable and it loses its natural, earthy look and feel, instead appearing overly glossy in sunlight. Synthetic raffia is also not a sustainable manufacturing process. Polypropylene is one of the most common microplastics and a major pollutant.

What Does Raffia Feel Like? 

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High-quality raffia fiber is supple, smooth, and surprisingly cool to the touch. Raffia palms evolved over millions of years in an environment where they face harsh winds, pounding rains, and seasonal monsoons as well as vibrant sunlight on hot days with suffocating humidity. This has made raffia one of nature’s most durable fibers. The winds it’s faced have made it naturally durable while being pliable and packable – no matter how strong the wind, it always bounces back into place. Eons of rainfall have made it naturally hydrophobic. Instead of absorbing water like many fibers, rain simply beads on it and rolls off to the side, watering its roots or keeping your face nice and dry underneath your hat. The pounding of direct sunlight gave the fiber a waxy coating, helping it—and you—stay cool in the heat, making it naturally UPF 45, and giving it a soft, cool texture.

Discover our Raffia In-Person

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Our pieces are articulated best in person. Visit our Los Angeles Flagship store to experience the meticulous craftsmanship and intricate details of our artisanal raffia straw hats firsthand. Explore the collection at our Los Angeles Flagship store to discover the perfect hat that embodies both style and sustainability or find a retailer near you

We also invite you to schedule a one-on-one virtual styling appointment with one of our expert stylists to discover how our artisan-crafted hats can elevate your wardrobe with style and sustainability.

Learn more about our commitments by reading our 2030 Impact Goals + Regenerative Manifesto

Discover: Artisan Raffia Straw 

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