portrait of liya kebede

Model Citizen: Liya Kebede of Lemlem Fills Her Life with Items That Are as Upbeat as the Clothes She Creates

The New York City- and Paris-based founder and creative director of Lemlem shares her daily essentials.
By Melissa Ozawa
June 18, 2021
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

In a Lemlem dress, you can't help but float through summer. Whisper-light and awash in happy, sun-drenched colors, each one is hand-woven on wooden looms by African artisans, following centuries-old traditions. The brand's founder is Ethiopian model and maternal-health advocate Liya Kebede, who rose to fame in the early aughts as the face of Tom Ford's Gucci and the first Black spokesmodel for Estée Lauder. On a trip to her hometown of Addis Ababa around that time, she noticed a distressing drop in the demand for traditional garments, and got busy.

"Weaving is a craft that has been passed through generations and holds deep cultural significance," says Kebede, who set her mind to preserving the art, and lifting up the workers who make the fabrics and their families. In 2006, she founded the Lemlem Foundation to connect them to health care, education, and more job opportunities; a year later, she launched the line to support it. Today Lemlem, which means "to blossom" in Amharic, has created hundreds of jobs and channels five percent of online clothing sales back to the foundation, so future artisans can bloom, too. "During my time as a World Health Organization goodwill ambassador, and now with my foundation, I have been working to reduce maternal mortality," she shares. "Our purpose is to ensure that everyone working along fashion's supply chain is highly valued."

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