LA-Based, Caribbean Luxury Marketplace PAPAIŸO is Championing Diverse Storytelling

by Chinea Rodriguez

It’s hard to pin PAPAIŸO with a singular definition. The LA based collective founded by Micha Alleyne represents the talent of designers and artisans in the underexposed and often overlooked Caribbean. In a way, the growing media platform-meets-market is as vast and diverse as the Caribbean cultures it celebrates. Stocking and sharing stories from beloved brands like Meiling, Shoma the Label and Wyld Flwr, PAPAIŸO eludes the label of “marketplace”. To hear more about PAPAIŸO, Alleyene’s background and what is next for the brand, we hopped on the phone with the ambitious founder for the full story.

 

Meet the Founder of PAPAIŸO, Micha Alleyne

Chinea Rodriguez: Can you tell me a little more about the brand and what inspired you to start it?

Micha Alleyne: We are a discovery and media platform showcasing, not only the products, but the enchanting stories of some of the most beloved brands across the Caribbean Sea. With brands from Jamaica and Trinidad, to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, we like to call ourselves the home for Caribbean artisanal luxury. PAPAIŸO was created out of a profound love for the Caribbean and its rich pool of creative talent, as well as a desire to create more diversity in the luxury space. Our aim is to preserve the whimsical, authentic spirit of our brand partners, while creating an enriching and sustainable model that can be scaled globally.

Our brand partners are culture-rich, artisanal, and sustainable by default. Together, we are co-creating a new vision of artisanal luxury at a time when the luxury industry is being forced to reinvent itself. We’ve built a robust brand engine of sorts, the first of its kind, that provides an ecosystem of services designed to help Caribbean brands flourish in a new digitized, globalized world. At the heart of this ecosystem is papaiyo.com, which is part marketplace, part journal, whose sole purpose is to share the stories, and by extension products, of these magical brands with the world.

The inspiration behind PAPAIŸO comes from my heritage and familial roots. I am a proud daughter of the Caribbean. My dad is Trinidadian with Bajan roots. My mother is Jamaican. I was raised with both Jamaican and Trinidadian traditions and surrounded by a diverse Caribbean community. My dad, in particular, has really influenced PAPAIŸO’s vision. He was a Caribbeanist and a pioneering linguist whose work was instrumental in promoting a strong Caribbean identity in various ways. The name “PAPAIŸO” is actually a spin on a Trinidadian slang – “papayo” – that I would always hear him say growing up. It means “Wow!”

 

(Brand Pictured: OCHIE )

CR: How did your career background help you develop the brand?

 

MA: My professional background is in marketing, luxury and film. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with several iconic brands to help craft their global brand strategies. Ultimately, I now want to use these skills to work on things that I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about this magical region, the Caribbean, that I have called home. And I’m passionate about her creative spirits – these enchanting brands who work with meraki and leave behind little secrets about their culture in the works of art they create. It’s pure magic really.

I worked at 20th Century Fox, in marketing, for a long time. My office was actually on the studio lot next to the best artisans and talent in Hollywood. Working in a film studio, it’s all about storytelling at the highest level. And storytelling forms the backbone of PAPAIŸO. At Fox, I learned that storytelling is not only about the big and the obvious, but also the intimate and minute. It’s about taking time to craft authentic experiences. It’s a process of co-creation between the subject, the storyteller and onlookers. In many ways, my experience at Fox helped me to become a better storyteller.

When I first moved to LA, I also worked closely with several luxury brands, from GUCCI and Chanel to Vince. The experience taught me so much about the luxury tradition: the minute details that went into these brands and the stories they told about their collections. It gave me an understanding of how the luxury space works, as well as an appreciation for extraordinary craftsmanship. And so ultimately, what I’ve done is I’ve combined all these experiences in film, marketing and luxury to create this hybrid platform that allows people to dive into the world of the Caribbean’s most extraordinary artisanal brands through compelling stories and visceral imagery. And most importantly, we are asserting our vision of luxury.

CR: Why do you think it’s so important to celebrate and promote luxury from the Caribbean?

 

MA: Well, for several reasons. But the reason that comes to mind first, and the foundation on which PAPAIŸO is built, is that the Caribbean has always been a region that has captured the imagination of many, it represents a diverse perspective on luxury, and the world is a better place when diverse voices are given a chance to be heard. Caribbean brands inevitably embed pieces of their culture and ancestral traditions in the products that they make. Experiencing these brands means you are experiencing a piece of this culture, a different way of seeing the world, and sometimes, helping to sustain traditional practices that have been passed down from generation to generation.

In a global luxury industry that has often been critiqued for lacking diversity, it’s important to celebrate brands from regions like the Caribbean, that have a strong legacy of artisanal craftsmanship, and that have often been left out of the conversation.

 

(Brand Pictured: The Cloth , photographed by Michelle Terris)

 

CR: What is your process like now curating the products that you carry?

 

MA: We curate brands that we think will be a good match with the spirit and aesthetic of PAPAIŸO. We focus on inspiring brands with stories to tell, who commit to extraordinary craftsmanship. So, the first step in the process is assessing this fit. When we first started, before COVID-19, we actually travelled to meet our brand partners in person, as well as to scout out new potential brands. The best brands from the Caribbean sometimes exist below the radar, ensconced in a whimsical world of night markets and local fairs. So being on the ground is important.

It was also important to make meaningful, face-to-face connections. Some of the brands that you see on the site now are from this type of personal engagement, often involving several interactions. Now, we use digital means to connect, but there is always an effort made to maintain that personal touch. Our onboarding process involves us sharing our story and our values. We are a values-based company. Equality, inclusivity, and protecting the earth; all of these areas are important to us. Ultimately, we source brands that similarly honor these values.

I remember, Meiling was one of the first brands that we got on board. Meiling is kind of like a pearl of the Caribbean – the matriarch of Caribbean fashion. Wherever you go in the Caribbean and you mention Meiling’s name, it just reverberates. She has this cult following – I’ve never seen anything like it – and a community of people who absolutely adore her. She was really helpful in our early stages. Our intention was to visit Trinidad and Tobago to personally meet Meiling and the several other Trinidadian brands that we carry. But those plans were quickly cancelled due to the pandemic. We keep in touch often, however, and it sometimes feels like we’ve known each other forever. Part of the Caribbean charm, I suppose.

 

(Brand Pictured: Meiling, photographed by Diane Villadsen)

CR: What are your hopes for PAPAIŸO in the future?

 

MA: Our hope is that we are embraced by the Caribbean and global community as the home for Caribbean artisanal luxury. We are the first platform to unite the best brands across the Caribbean Sea under one virtual roof. Therefore, we are the first to do so with an emphasis on storytelling. We also use a made-to-order model, which distinguishes us from many other marketplaces. So, our hope is that the world will fall in love with this enchanting new way of experiencing artisanal luxury from one of the most magical regions on earth. In the future, we will also place more emphasis on curating brands from the wider Latin American region, but it’s important for us to lay the foundation with the Caribbean first.

Additional Brands We Love at PAPAIŸO…

In celebrating Caribbean brands we are listing a few of our favorite selections represented below;

1. Pinto Pottery: Organic Plates, $166

2. Cara de Planta: Mezcal Shot Glass, $20

3. Choiselle: Lavender Coconut Wax Candle, $17

4. BAUGHaus: Caribbean Princess Planter, Coming Soon

5. TBVLS: Sea Egg Tea Set,  $323

Editor’s Note: “We are so excited to share this feature with you, Pretty Birds! As PAPAIŸO’s journey continues to unfold we congratulate Micha Alleyne for her work. She is truly paving a way for underrepresented Caribbean artisans. Thank you for your dynamic, collaborative storytelling.”

 

All Images courtesy of PAPAIŸO. Leading Image photographed by Diane Villadsen.

 

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