When Ivonne Jurado and Yuri Parreno first came to Washington from Ecuador in the year 2000, they did not plan to start a hat business.
Their professional backgrounds had nothing to do with hats. Jurado worked in administration and Parreno was in marketing.
But after moving, they had to work several odd jobs to make ends meet. The Mountlake Terrace couple felt frustrated at working entry-level jobs in Washington after dedicating years of their lives to their careers in Ecuador. They decided they needed another side gig to bring in some extra cash. That is when they decided to sell different products from Ecuador online, then eventually at the various street fairs and farmers markets nearby.
“Our culture is very rich in art,” Parreno said. He wanted to share that culture with Americans.
Of all the products they would sell, hand-woven hats seemed to do well. Eventually, the couple focused their small business on selling hats. In about 2005, Parreno made selling hats his full-time job, and Ultrafino was born. In about 2009, Jurado also quit her other job to work full-time at Ultrafino. Ultrafino incorporated in 2014, and it is still growing.
The material for the hats is woven by hand in Ecuador, which was very important to Parreno.
“We had to ask, how can we, as a small business, find a way to do the right thing?” Parreno said.
The answer to that question was to cut out the middle man and work directly with Ecuadorian families weaving the material for their hats.
“If we’re going to pay these guys, we need to find a way to improve their lives,” Parreno said. “When you buy those hats, you are changing lives. We are impacting families who don’t always have something to eat or don’t have medicine or don’t have access to education. We are giving them an opportunity.”
“Ultrafino” means “extra fine” or “ultra thin” in English, referring to the weave on Ultrafino’s Panama hats. Hats are hand finished. The average Ultrafino hat costs between $90 and $200, but top-quality hats cost as much as $5,000 and take up to a year to make.
“We want to keep the good art,” Parreno said.
Ultrafino sells about 5,000 hats per month.
Parreno said the company is constantly working to develop their hats by, for example, adding changeable headbands or altering the colors and shapes of the hat.
Since their business is mostly online, they get a lot of customers from areas like Florida or New York.
The company had been working out of the couple’s garage until June 2015. Then a loan obtained through Business Impact NW, an organization that provides business and financial training and funding to small businesses, allowed Ultrafino to move into a large warehouse space in Lynnwood, located at 6333 212th St. SW.
That warehouse space also has a showroom, which does get some foot traffic, though much of their sales are still conducted online. The showroom is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Jurado said they still have a lot to learn about running a successful business in the United States. They hope to expand their marketing and possibly open a store, or wholesale their hats to another store.
“Our next step is looking at ways to keep growing,” Parreno said.
–Story and photo by Natalie Covate