We want to increase access to designer pieces especially among the diaspora
- Mel Gabriel 
We’ve visited Africa Fashion Week London, so what better way to celebrate the beginning of Black History Month than to continent hop and explore the world of Caribbean fashion!

The Psychology of Fashion had the pleasure of being invited to the private viewing of the Caribbean Lookbook pop-up shop in London which took place 23rd - 25th September 2016. We caught up with the founder, Trinidad native - Mel Gabriel to give us the inside scoop about the event and the expansion of the Caribbean fashion industry.  

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Necklace Akong London Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom
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Chantel Miller wearing a dress by Paradise Prints Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom
 
POF: Tell us all about Caribbean Lookbook

Mel: "Caribbean Lookbook is a platform for Caribbean fashion designers and artisans as well as lifestyle service providers from or in the Caribbean including those of Caribbean heritage. It’s essentially a marketing platform, although we do produce content. We focus on content, commerce and curation. "

POF: We’ve noticed that you’re also the creator of Trinidad Lookbook, the Online and Print Magazine. When does Trinidad Lookbook end and Caribbean Lookbook begin?

Mel: "Trinidad Lookbook ended two months ago and morphed into Caribbean Lookbook. Trinidad Lookbook was really just content. Caribbean Lookbook started as a directory and I decided to merge the brands because it was time to evolve."
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Collection by Shop Shari Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom
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Lilian Russel Island Bags Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom
 

​POF: Why did you decide to come over to London?

Mel: "We started this pop up showroom and marketplace as a series and the idea is to pop up in different places three times a year. We want to increase access to designer pieces especially among the diaspora because while some designers have online shopping available people like to try clothes on and they like to interact with pieces. It’s just a better way to increase awareness of Caribbean brands because a lot of people don’t know that all of these brands exist they only know what is in mass media. We’re trying to bring the brands to the world. "
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Caribbean Lookbook London Pop-Up Private viewing Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom
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Akong London Earrings Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom

POF: What is the best thing is about Caribbean fashion?

Mel: "I think that everything that’s in the Caribbean extends into Caribbean fashion. We have our own style our own flavour our own kind of sexiness that translates into the way we dress and ultimately the kind of clothes and pieces that we produce. You could see that in this Meiling jumpsuit (A beautiful flowing jumpsuit that Mel is currently wearing that looks like it was made for her) everything is easy breezy, looks hot you know whilst still being chic. You can see that direct Caribbean influence in the types of pieces our designers produce without being obnoxiously Caribbean. It’s very colourful, it’s very breathable its functional to some degree but it’s also very sexy."
 

When discussing the changes happening in the Caribbean fashion industry, Mel tells us that the government’s support has had a huge impact in allowing the industry to grow. 

Mel: “The governments are putting more things in place for designers to get some type of support especially manufacturing support, export support – because export has always been a big deal in terms of keeping people back and keeping the brands only on the shores of the Caribbean.”

Mel states that the way consumers spend and the technological advancement of fashion designers have also had a huge impact

Mel: "We’re talking about fashion more, that wasn’t happening before because people were not taking it as seriously as I would have hoped but now we are really pushing fashion as this thing where more people are buying local or buying regional. So those are some marked changes. 
Designers are also way more technologically advanced. They are going back to school and upping their game, they are definitely using the internet way more and are paying attention to trends whilst not having the trends take over their work.”

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Sandals by Shop Shari Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom
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Jewellery ColouRiot Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom

POF: A lot of people associate the Caribbean with Carnival, do you think designers draw inspiration from the festival or do you think they’re trying to move away from it?

Mel: "I don’t think we could ever get away from carnival as Caribbean people or its influence on fashion or even fashions influence on carnival - it goes hand in hand. We see a lot of the same techniques in terms of beading and fabric use especially in the newer bands like lost tribe (Lost Tribe is the name of one of the many bands who wear matching costumes and celebrate the festivities together during Trinidad & Tobago’s world famous Carnival) they are like a fabric-only band they are not using feathers at all so it’s interesting noticing the different ways designers are using fabric. And then you have designers like Shop Shari and Christian Boucaud who use some ‘typically carnival’ techniques while producing their collections and it just works. There’s no way to really separate the two. 

It’s a matter of remembering what our heritage is and not necessarily shying away from it because sometimes some people want to be less Caribbean and I don’t know why. There’s a way to find a balance between appealing to somebody who may not be Caribbean per say but would also appreciate a little bit of modernity with the colours and the flamboyance and all that."
 

PictureWhen the swimsuit matches your shoes how can you resist? Swimsuits: Suga Apple Swim, Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom


We tried to get Mel to name her top favourite Caribbean designers from the huge list in Caribbean Lookbook’s directory but we had no such luck…

Mel: "I don’t have any favourites; I don’t play favourites. I can’t even do a top ten of my personal favourites because I enjoy bits and pieces from everybody. "

POF: What is your advice for a Caribbean designer who is looking to get into the industry but is overwhelmed by the competition worldwide? 

Mel: "I would recommend they have a point of view. They need to understand that they are not going to develop a signature necessarily in the first week of designing and they need to relax about that. Some of them try to have a signature out the gate and they get trapped and they don’t know how to pivot out of that space. I think interning is always a good idea.

Get a lot of experience because a lot of designers they come out of school or they start a collection thinking they know everything and they don’t. I would also say don’t get too caught up in the hype because you’ll always have friends and followers who will egg you on and encourage you but likes don’t always equal sales so don’t look for it. Focus on doing good work and producing quality work and everything else will come. "


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Me with Caribbean Lookbook founder Mel Gabriel Photographer: Adaeze Ihebom
 
Make sure you check out Caribbean Lookbook to find out more about the Caribbean fashion industry by clicking here and here.

 

Author

Shakaila Forbes-Bell is a Fashion Psychologist and writer who has been featured in Marie Claire UK, i-D, Who What Wear, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, Fashion Bomb Daily, The Voice Newspaper, Gal-Dem, Black Matters US and more.

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