Trinidadian-American designer and artist Shae Rogers has always had a love for maximalism and statement jewelry. That love led her to start Paper Papayas, a Caribbean-inspired jewelry line that doubles as wearable art.
Paper Papayas was born in 2020 after Shae was furloughed from her job as a buying agent in Hospitality Purchasing. The brand quickly took off and now has a loyal community of fashionable women on social media. Fashion lovers add Paper Papayas earrings as the finishing touch to their looks.
Shae releases collections of earrings based on various aspects of Trinidad and Tobago. The twin island’s ethnic backgrounds, foods, land, and music are her inspiration. Each collection is a result of personal experiences and extensive research of the country dearest to her heart. The end result is beautiful, vibrant, and sculptural earrings made from polymer clay.
We had a chance to chat with Shae about the impact Trinidad has had on her career and her process as a designer. She also blesses us with her insider tips on all things Trini.
TN: How much has Trinidadian culture impacted you throughout your life, your career, and your entrepreneurship journey?
SR: I was raised in part by a strong & hardworking mother who happens to be a Trinidadian immigrant. Despite the hardships, my mother always made sure my brother and I had what we needed – we always felt loved and supported.
She always made sure to encourage us to use our natural talents. Although being born and raised in the States, all I am and all I know is Trinidadian culture. Because of that, I have felt a unique sense of pride in being able to share a little bit of that culture and personal background with others. That has been the mission of my small business.
TN: What inspired you to start Paper Papayas?
SR: I’ve always been a maximalist at heart. Really big on statement jewelry. I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember and have been familiar with polymer clay as a medium for years.
I wanted to try my hand at making pieces that could be considered “wearable art”. However, between my job and volunteer work, I didn’t have the time to explore it fully. At the start of Covid, I was furloughed from my job – so I finally had the time and motivation to start something new.
That’s when Paper Papayas was created.
TN: Your pieces are inspired by Trinidad and Tobago, what is your process like coming up with your collections?
SR: Yes. The themes behind the various collections are all inspired by different aspects of the land, music, ethnic backgrounds, and foods that make Trinidad and Tobago the culturally rich haven that it is.
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So, I not only tap into my personal experiences, but I also do a lot of research to make sure I am representing these facets as accurately as possible in my art.
I try to allow myself to feel during the process and what comes from the combination of emotion and knowledge is usually what makes the pieces so interesting. I also use the beautiful woman in my family as my greatest inspiration.
TN: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs or people who aspire to start their own brands?
SR: It sounds cliche, but be your authentic self. Whatever it is that you are passionate about, do that! Don’t start simply for the money. That’s not going to insure the longevity of your business/brand. But when your heart is in it, people can feel that and want to be a part of that.
TN: Where do you see Paper Papayas going in the next five years?
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SR: Man, I would just be grateful to still be in business in five years. But honestly, my ultimate goal is to grow. I will always want my pieces to be handmade so I don’t want to mass produce or anything like that. But I want the name Paper Papayas to be familiar to the fashion and design arena.
TN: Ok, now let’s talk about all things Trini — what are your must-visit places when in Trinidad and Tobago?
SR: Ok. First things first, Richards Bake and Shark at Maracas Beach.
I’m not big into tourist attractions, however, I really enjoy the natural history of La Brea and the sulfur baths available there. Next time I visit, I would like to go to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary.
Tobago beaches are beautiful of course, my favorites are English Man’s Bay, Pigeon Point, and Black Rock. Exploring Tobago’s coral reefs is a must!
TN: Favorite Trini foods that everyone must try?
SR: DOUBLES!!! If you try nothing else, please try Doubles. Pelau is ESSENTIAL! Corn Soup and Roti. I love Aloo Pies. And of course, no curry is complete without buss up shut roti.
Related: How To Eat Like A Local In Trinidad