Model Citizen: Liya Kebede of Lemlem Fills Her Life with Items That Are as Upbeat as the Clothes She Creates
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."
"This is an iconic style. It's easy to wear, goes from beach to dinner, and is so flattering on everyone. Every day I go in my closet, find something I haven't worn in years, and create a new look with it."
Shop Now: Lemlem Eshal Plunge Neck Dress in Goldenrod, $395, lemlem.com.
Music on Repeat
"Lately I've been listening to this soulful album on repeat."
Shop Now: Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks, from $11.99, amazon.com.
"They fold up in half, so they're super-compact. I keep them with me all the time."
Shop Now: Persol Steve McQueen Sunglasses in Black, $480, persol.com.
"Pink ones are my favorite. Their fullness and subtle scent are wonderful."
"This is my daily breakfast toast, which I eat with a little butter."
Shop Now: Russ & Daughters Challah, $9, russanddaughters.com.
"I enjoyed all the mystical characters and magic in this book. I'm an avid reader and adore all genres. I always look for new writers, and keep stacks of books by my bed and in my travel bag."
Shop Now: "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker, from $7.99, amazon.com.
"I like to mix things up and wear my favorite Lemlem pieces with jeans and boots or sneakers."
Shop Now: Veja V-10 Leather Sneakers in White and Black, $150, net-a-porter.com.
"I'm trying to make this my go-to NYC ride. It's fast—and fun."
Shop Now: Citi Bike Rental, from $3.50 per trip, citibikenyc.com.