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Inspiring Conversations with Micha Alleyne of PAPAIŸO

Today we’d like to introduce you to Micha Alleyne.

Hi Micha, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
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 growing up. My father, in particular, modeled a great sense of Caribbean pride. I now live in California, but my Caribbean roots remain very strong. It’s this deep love and admiration for the Caribbean that drove me to start my company, PAPAIŸO. After several years of working with some pretty iconic brands, helping to craft their marketing and brand strategies, I felt empowered to create something of my own that allowed me to make a difference in areas I was passionate about. I wanted to reimagine the very notion of a “company” and build something that aligned with my values. For over a year, I meticulously thought long and hard about what this venture would be — writing and rewriting several business plans while trying to marry passion with practicality. Lastly, I wanted my life’s work to honor my dad, who has been a huge inspiration and driving force behind everything I do. PAPAIŸO encapsulates my passions, ideals and experiences perfectly. On the surface, it is a robust, first-of-its-kind platform that helps Caribbean brands flourish in global markets. But deep down, it is my love letter to one of the most magical regions on earth and an ode to my father and hero. The name is actually a spin on a Trinidadian slang — “papayo” — that my father used to use when I was a little girl. It means “Wow!” I couldn’t be more content in this space.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Like the journey of many startups, it hasn’t always been a smooth road for us. But we remain grateful for this ride. For one, we were initially scheduled to launch right in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak. And so, we had to revise and push down several things, despite them being time sensitive. These delays jeopardized deals and collaborations we had fought so hard to make. We also had to adopt and adapt to new ways of doing business, which sometimes complicated things. There is an inherent level of risk and anxiety launching any startup. Launching a startup in the middle of a global pandemic is on another level. I remember frantically scurrying to update business plans, messaging and so many things on which we had predicated our business. But in a way, having to rethink everything and reassess our values was an opportunity to build back even stronger. Through it all, we’ve been heartbroken at the devastation and loss caused by COVID-19 and we have gained an entirely new perspective on who we are and what we want to be in our global village. Other challenges faced have to do with the fact that we were trying to do something on a scale that had never been done before. This is the bittersweet nature of innovation. We had to (and still do) stretch our imagination in creating business models and infrastructure to allow us to build our company in the way we envisioned it. It’s been a steep learning curve (with many curveballs) that we continue to climb.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about PAPAIŸO?
PAPAIŸO came to life in California in 2019. We are a dynamic discovery and media platform devoted to showcasing, not only the products, but the enchanting stories of some of the most beloved brands across the Caribbean Sea. Artisanal, culture-rich and sustainable by default, these brands are asserting their vision of artisanal luxury at a pivotal moment in the industry. Together, we are co-creating a new imaginary around how luxury is perceived and experienced. With brands from Jamaica and Trinidad, to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, we like to call ourselves the home of Caribbean artisanal luxury.

PAPAIŸO’s aim is to preserve the whimsical, authentic spirit of our brand partners, while creating an enriching and sustainable model that can be scaled globally. As such, our platform provides an ecosystem of bespoke services around brand/marketing strategy, e-commerce and cross-border logistics — services we think are key in helping brands from this region flourish in a new digitized, globalized world. This end-to-end, holistic approach is a distinguishing feature of our company. In 2020, we launched papaiyo.com — a key part of our ecosystem. Part marketplace, part journal, papaiyo.com provides a virtual space for these enchanting Caribbean brands and consumers around the world to meet, transact and fall in love.

You see, 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, and sometimes, helping to sustain traditional practices that have been passed down from generation to generation. It’s pure magic really. Caribbean brands also bring with them well-established models and approaches to doing business, such as made-to-order models and artisan-driven production methods, that are gaining increasing currency in this evolving space. By inserting Caribbean voices in the luxury industry, we are broadening the perspectives in this space and creating a richer, more diverse range of possibilities for everyone involved.

What would you say have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
The most important lessons I’ve learned on this journey are the rewards of authenticity, the value of purpose, and the power of collaboration. We try to maintain a strong sense of who we are and why we exist. Whenever we’re faced with difficult decisions, we refer to that manifesto. We’ve learned that whenever we stray too far away from our authentic core, complications ensue. We are driven by our values and a purpose that transcends us and we try to stick to these, even when it’s difficult to do so. But magically, we find that so many doors have been opened to us and lasting connections have been made with people who simply resonated deeply with our purpose. Also, we have witnessed first-hand the leaps and strides you are able to make when you collaborate and share with others. This spirit of community and collaboration drives everything we do.

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Image Credits:

Credits for Brand Photos: Photographer: Diane Villadsen Models: Farima Kone Kito, Nicole Schuey HMUA: Meko White

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