It was a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, and all I wanted was an iced coffee to get me through the day. As I waited in line at a quaint coffee shop, a beautiful woman in a bright floral dress caught my eye. I turned towards her and expressed my love for her outfit; in turn, she expressed gratitude and ended her thanks with “my vitiligo sister.” It was only then that I noticed the faint spots on her fingers. A few short sentences later, I learned that the LA native and coffee aficionado I was speaking to was none other than Chèrmelle Edwards from The Coffeetographer.
Chèrmelle created The Coffeetographer, a webzine that centers around culture and coffee, in 2011. Throughout her time running the webzine, Chèrmelle has explored topics ranging from art and film to travel notes and pop culture news. Her journey has led her to see coffee as more than a mere drink.
“Coffee is a true connector,” said Chèrmelle. “Not just of individual moments, but it’s a beautiful excuse to pause, to connect and to commune with another human and by extension another culture.”
For many of us diagnosed with vitiligo, it can be a shock and difficult journey to find a new sense of normalcy. Chèrmelle’s experience was no different. After developing vitiligo eight years ago while working at a corporate job, the condition had a heavy impact on her life. Having always been a ‘naturalista’ who hated wearing makeup, Chèrmelle suddenly found herself spending hundreds of dollars on makeup a month to find the right match for her rapidly changing skin.
“I struggle with how I want to present myself, how I want to feel and what I want to show,” admitted Chèrmelle. “As my vitiligo has spread and become more apparent, it’s been a real struggle to figure out what to hold onto and what to surrender to. I’m confident in who I am – my spirit, my talent, my beingness can’t be dimmed by skin that’s losing pigment, but it does bring up insecurities about what I wish used to be.”
In all that Chèrmelle participates in, community is at the center of her work. For her, The Coffeetographer is about community, gathering and being with others – which leaves little space for her to hide from the world. When it comes to vitiligo, Chèrmelle struggles to find the balance in incorporating the condition into her personal brand.
“The things we struggle with don’t always have to be things that we bring to the public to knowingly struggle with in front of their eyes,” said Chèrmelle. “But at the same time, people want that vulnerability and they want in on more of your human story.”
Today, The Coffeetographer is a passion that has turned into a full-time project. Additionally, Chèrmelle works as a photographer, storyteller, and social strategist; about two years ago she started a micro-agency called ONCE UPON a You that helps businesses better tell their stories authentically while navigating the digital landscape.
Simone Girma is an LA-based communications graduate working for NBC. She’s lived with vitiligo for ten years and has learned how to appreciate the story of her skin – something she aims to share with readers.