With its mission to “celebrate and preserve the Caribbean's rich handcraft tradition, and to share this magical legacy with the world,” Papaiÿo is a design community and e-commerce platform that cultivates and celebrates the artisanal luxury of some of the most beloved brands from the islands. Micha Alleyne, its Jamaican founder, is proud to share her heritage and its flavor through her passion of storytelling. Not only does she head up her own clothing line, but she also join forces with other designers and artisans to share the magical essence of their homeland with others.
Below, Alleyne opens up to EBONY about her journey as a designer and founder of the Caribbean fashion e-tailer.
EBONY: Tell us a little bit about your heritage and background.
Micha Alleyne: I was born and raised in Jamaica to Jamaican and Trinidadian parents. My heritage is everything to me. I grew up in this magical culture that deeply respects nature, reveres elders and honors legacies that are immaculately preserved and passed down through oral traditions. My island home, Jamaica, is a tropical playground with endless charm and enigma. My father was a Caribbeanist with a deep love for nature. His pioneering work sought to advance a proud Caribbean identity, and he instilled his love of culture and nature in me at an early age. This heritage and upbringing are deeply embedded in my brand Papaiÿo—a word inspired by a Trinidadian expression my father taught me as a little girl, which means "Wow!"
How did you get into design?
I was introduced to design through my work with some of the world's most iconic brands, where the most talented artisans and stories reside. I wanted to translate these experiences to a Caribbean context where our own artisanal and oral legacies could shine through design. And so, in 2020, Papaiÿo was born. In 2021, we launched our first resort wear collection in collaboration with Caribbean partners, where we drove the design, creative development and storytelling behind the collection that articulated our distinct vision of what we call Caribbean enchantment. After receiving a warm reception, we confirmed what we always knew—the Caribbean is truly a magical place.
How has your Jamaican heritage informed your designs? Give us an example.
Papaiyo is most known for its color stories and silhouettes. Our color stories are captivating renditions of the landscapes and vistas I grew up seeing as a child on the island. Pumpkin oranges, sage greens, bright burgundies—the colors of Jamaica and Trinidad come alive through our work. Our silhouettes reflect timeless Caribbean sartorial elegance, created for charming island life—for wanderers at heart who are enamored with the coast and live life in earshot of the ocean. Our collections are accompanied with rich visual and oral stories that embody our articulation of Caribbean enchantment. It's not that everything we do must be Caribbean. But rather, I am profoundly Caribbean to the core, and so whatever I create cannot help but reflect this.
What challenges have you faced as an international designer?
My biggest challenge is one that a precious cohort of culture-rich communities across the globe face: How does one capture all this magic that we—the bravehearts—have been forced to suppress for so long? A new magical world is emerging, colored by enchanting cultures that have survived unspeakable times through resilience and the indelible bonds forged with their ancestors who share secrets to their heritage.
Tell us about your latest collection.
Our new collection will come to life in Papaiÿo’s new brand, Mervyn, that the world will experience by the time the weather changes. Mervyn exists to inspire magic and wonder through our distinct articulation of Caribbean enchantment, in the world of Papaiÿo.