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: To this day I’m still trying to articulate what PAPAIŸO is. It was very important for me to create something new, driven by a profound belief in the Caribbean and the talent from the Caribbean and wanting to create more diversity in the luxury space. We didn’t want to be like a traditional marketplace so I really hate using that word ‘marketplace’ although sometimes, [you know for different scenarios] I’m forced to use the term.
We are a discovery platform, and a media platform that really tries to showcase, not only the products but the stories of some of the most beloved brands from the Caribbean.
My dad is Trinidadian. My mother is Jamaican. I grew up in Jamaica, but I lived in several different places as well. Consider us 100% Island. My dad spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico. He was born and raised in Trinidad, lived in Jamaica, and I lived in Costa Rica for some time. Needless to say, I grew up with a strong sense of a diverse Caribbean community. My dad was one of the pioneers in the Caribbean for really establishing different Caribbean dialects as their own language. It’s a common in Jamaica, for example; everyone now acknowledges our language as a verified language. Back in the day, it was kind of looked down upon. Ultimately, my dad modeled a strong sense of Caribbean unity.
PAPAIŸO came out of this legacy of honoring the Caribbean and wanting to express it in my own way.
My background is in marketing and film. I worked with Fox for a while; I’ve worked with plenty of iconic brands trying to build up their strategies. Ultimately, I want to use these skills to work on areas that I’m passionate about. This is how PAPAIŸO came to be. The name “PAPAIŸO” is actually a spin on Trinidadian slang that my dad always used to use which is actually “Popeye-yo” so it felt a little bit different. Alternatively, “Papa yo” in Trinidad means, “Wow, like, Oh my goodness!” He would always say that growing up. That’s who we are and how we came to be. My focus is really storytelling. The actual products are part of that story but it’s not the ultimate end-all of everything.
(Brand Pictured: OCHIE )
CR: How did your career background help you develop the brand?
MA: I worked at Fox for a long time and I actually worked on the studio lot with the best artisans and talent in Hollywood. They were so good at what they did, but they were unsung heroes. A film would come out and you’d see all these beautiful things on the set or on the screen, but you’d never know the amazing people who were working tirelessly behind the scenes to create it. Working in a film studio, it’s all about storytelling so I was exposed to a lot of creativity. There was a photography project that I spearheaded [and] they gave me a team of Emmy Award-winning DPS to work with. That just entirely opened up my world to creativity and storytelling. I looked at how they took time to capture all the images and the stories behind them. That experience definitely helped me to become a storyteller. Also working in the luxury space.
When I first moved to LA, I worked a lot with luxury brands from Vince to Chanel to Gucci. I helped style some of LA’s finest. I’ll never forget my first experience with a luxury brand; coming from Jamaica, I was blown away. The experience and the intricate details that went into it gave me an understanding of how the luxury space works. What I’ve done is I’ve paired my experience working in luxury and my experience as a storyteller, working in entertainment and other fields. I’ve created this platform that fuses the two.
CR: Why do you think it’s so important to celebrate and promote luxury from the Caribbean?
MA: Well, for several reasons. From a very practical standpoint. You know the luxury industry pre-COVID is, the personal luxury goods industries at $281 billion industry. Currently, it’s dominated by the United States and Europe Western countries. Latin America has managed to make a real imprint on this space and although their industry is valued at about $11 billion, it’s very much dominated by Mexico and Brazil. The Caribbean does not fit into that piece of the pie, but it does inspire a lot of creativity. Just like in the film industry and other areas.
Practically speaking, focus must be placed on creating value in a global market and making sure that there is equity in that value creation. It’s imperative that countries like Caribbean countries are able to participate in this space. In the past, digital and technology infrastructures and production capabilities made it difficult to participate. We have now created an ecosystem that allows Caribbean brands to enter this space. It allows them to take part in value creation.
Every time I think about the amazing creatives involved, I’m blown away. When I first embarked on this journey, I knew early on that I had to make personal connections.
MA: These artisanal brands often exist below the radar. Typically, they are passionate creatives who don’t necessarily do create for the spotlight, but because it is part of them. Many are second-generation designers or artisans and they create out of deep love. I literally had to take a flight to Jamaica, right before COVID hit to shake some of these people’s hands and look them in the face and build relationships because that’s how they work. Part of our motivation today is gently finding a way to introduce their work to global audiences while maintaining their authentic spirit.
Our approach is very unique. We build relationships. We’re not trying to create these backbreaking, harrowing business models that deplete resources and take from local communities. That happens far too often. I talk to some of these brand owners almost every day and it’s really a two-way relationship that we’ve built. A big part of the motivation is to just support them and create a comfortable space to express themselves on a global platform (while maintaining an authentic, meaningful relationship between us).
(Brand Pictured: The Cloth , photographed by Michelle Terris)
CR: What is your process like now curating the products that you carry?
MA: Early in the process before COVID I actually went to Jamaica. I went to every single fair that I could possibly get to, and literally met these people face to face. Some of the brands that you see on the site now are from personal interaction. The Caribbean is a close knit community. I’ve thought about these brands, I’ve come across them just through my network. I live in LA, but I go ‘home’ every year, sometimes twice a year. When I go home I stay for months at the time. My family’s down there so the connections are still very close knit. I knew about these brands for a while and when I meet one brand the owner often introduces me to others as well. It just keeps growing bigger and bigger. I really look for brands that match the aesthetic so they must produce extraordinary product. In addition to this, there must also be a bigger story and furthermore a set of values, because we really are a values driven company.
Equality, inclusivity, and protecting the earth; all of these areas are important to us. We try to find brands that similarly honor our values.
Meiling was one of the first brands that we got on board. Meiling is kind of like a pearl of the Caribbean. Wherever you go in the Caribbean and you mentioned Meiling’s name it literally echoes, 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 mentoring the process, and introducing me to brands that would be suitable so for example, Shoma the Label. Meiling has been a mentor in this space so a lot of people coming onto the Caribbean from. I just think it’s a beautiful thing to have Meiling on our platform to be like this mentor who just produces the most exquisite work and who is so giving of her time. She’s always willing to help. Meiling kind of embodies the spirit of who we want to be and who we want to have with us.
(Brand Pictured: Meiling, photographed by Diane Villadsen)
CR: What are your hopes for PAPAIŸO in the future?
MA: We want to expand. Right now we have our marketplace and I have to use that word even though I didn’t like the word. Very soon we’re going to launch a journal. We really want to own that storytelling space and that’s one of the ways that we will do it. Then we also want to go into brick and mortar because what we do is really built on personal connections, which can happen online and they are increasingly happening online but some of the magic is also in person. We also want to do more collaborations with other types of Caribbean brands that may not be on our platform because they don’t fit into our universe of products, but they’re still strong Caribbean brands nonetheless.
We want to push this concept of collaboration and then get to a point where these brands are in big retail stores. PAPAIŸO is a marketplace and we are a media platform, but we have a bit of a bigger vision for the Caribbean. Here, we look at competition a little bit differently. We believe collaboration is really the business model of the future. If I can somehow play a part in getting these brands in big retail stores, for example, to get them better distribution deals and all that, then we want to also be in a position to create those opportunities as well.
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 in 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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