Everviolet Chats: Mel Gabriel, Breast Cancer Survivor & Founder of Caribbean Lookbook

In an inspiring conversation, Mel Gabriel, Founder of Caribbean Lookbook, opens up about her journey as a breast cancer survivor and how it has shaped her life's work. She candidly shares, "It's like everything is important and nothing matters, and until you've survived something like this, you won't understand."

Mel's story is one of resilience, and she uses her platform to educate and uplift women across the Caribbean diaspora. After undergoing a double mastectomy, her fashion blog became a vehicle for healing and a supportive space to demonstrate survivorship through the empowering lens of personal style. Blending a philanthropic spirit with her storytelling gifts, Mel is creating a powerful legacy by elevating Caribbean designers and celebrating the region's vibrant cultures. To learn more about Mel's incredible journey and the impact of her work, read on.

Can you share with us a bit about your journey with breast cancer and how it has shaped your perspective on life and work?

There’s a family history of breast cancer on my mother’s side, so on some level I’ve always expected to be diagnosed at some point. For better or worse, I’ve been ready for it… prepared. Because of my mother’s experience, I’ve always known what to look for, and early detection saved my life. It’s interesting the level of emotional estate planning you have to do as a child of a cancer survivor. I’ve chosen life, and now everything feels more urgent and more calming at the same time. It’s like everything is important and nothing matters, and until you’ve survived something like this, you won’t understand.

How did your experience with breast cancer influence the founding of Caribbean Lookbook?

I actually founded Caribbean Lookbook in 2010. I’ve always believed there’s a responsibility that comes with having a large audience, and as soon as I was diagnosed, I knew I’d use my platform and my experience with breast cancer to educate and inspire women in the Caribbean.

What role did Caribbean Lookbook play in your healing process during and after your battle with breast cancer?

So much of Caribbean Lookbook is rooted in personal style, and getting dressed, and engaging in Caribbean lifestyle. After my double mastectomy, it helped to have this work to focus on - especially as it provided a supportive space to demonstrate survivorship.

As the founder and Chief Vision Officer of Caribbean Lookbook, what inspired you to create a platform specifically dedicated to celebrating Caribbean fashion and lifestyle?

In my mid-twenties, I was living in London for a few months, and I noticed the personal style of so many people… just wearing whatever they wanted, with no shame. I also was binge-watching Sex and the City, and the reverence they had for designer clothes - I wanted Caribbean people to show that same type of reverence for the talent coming out of our region. I was intent on creating a space to celebrate personal style and Caribbean design; social media was also in its nascent stage, and Caribbean Lookbook fit in perfectly at that time.

How do you believe Caribbean Lookbook contributes to the representation and visibility of Caribbean designers, artisans and tastemakers?

When Lookbook started, there was nothing else focused solely on highlighting the work of Caribbean designers. I created this thing dedicated to raising the conversation around Caribbean fashion and lifestyle, but now it has really turned into a beautiful love letter to not just Caribbean designers, but to our culture as a region. We can’t have one without the other, and Caribbean people - especially in the diaspora - love, love, love Caribbean culture. Every post becomes a celebration of the different islands and their international communities.

In what ways do you think your background as a social entrepreneur, producer and writer has influenced your approach to running Caribbean Lookbook?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. As I got older, and started volunteering (then working) at the YMCA, I’ve wanted to help people - be of service, somehow. It was easy to blend my love of storytelling and public relations when it came to running to Caribbean Lookbook.

How do you balance your roles between leading Caribbean Lookbook and managing Middle Face, your production and publishing company?

Not very well! Haha. There’s never enough time. I’ve recently partnered with renowned Jamaican photographer, Marlon James, on Caribbean Lookbook. I couldn’t keep doing it on my own - especially as my focus has now shifted mainly to health management. Trying to balance it all is a challenge, and I have to remember to be gentle with myself when I’m not meeting business goals as quickly as I’d like.

What are some of the challenges you've faced in growing Caribbean Lookbook, and how have you overcome them?

The Caribbean is, unfortunately, sometimes a few years behind everywhere else when it comes to technology and trends. We’re not early adopters - at least, we weren’t in 2010, when I started Caribbean Lookbook. So a lot of brands didn’t know what to do with me, exactly. To be fair, I didn’t know what I even wanted the brand to be. I’ve had moments where I was trying to be everything to everyone. It took a very public failure and some deep reflection to learn my place in this industry… to figure out where I bring the most value.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those looking to start businesses centered around social impact, like Caribbean Lookbook?

I’d say ‘just start’. It’s terribly easy to feel daunted by a new idea or project, but if you’re intent on doing meaningful work, you have to feel the fear and do it anyway. Things tend to fall into place when you’re doing the work you’re meant to be doing.

How do you see the future of Caribbean Lookbook evolving, and what goals do you have for the platform moving forward?

Oh gosh, there’s so much we want to do. A creator support agency is on the horizon. Coming out of my own healthcare experience, we’re keen to ensure creators and cultural workers have the necessary support systems if they’re ever faced with a similar life event.

How do you maintain self-care and wellness while managing the demands of your career and your personal journey as a breast cancer survivor?

I’ve found myself being extra intentional about holding space for myself. I enjoy working out, so now my entire schedule revolves around gym time. I’m better now at slowing down and just resting. I’ve had sleep guilt for years, so this is an interesting space to be in. So much of my work is creative work, so I need to be mindful of how I spend my down time. The beauty of living on an island means the beach is always nearby.

What does Everviolet’s mantra “Beauty of Change” mean to you?

We’re always becoming. With every new achievement or challenge life throws at us, the resulting change is meant to be woven into the story of our lives. The way we show up for ourselves through all of it - the way we receive the changes that come our way - that’s where the beauty lies. That constant, beautiful process of becoming the best version of ourselves, that’s what Beauty of Change means to me.