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Chatting with Liya Kebede

We talk to the supermodel & designer behind our new resortwear line, Lemlem.

-What has your fashion journey been and how did it lead to the creation of your own line?

I started modeling when I was a teenager and I was exposed to the fashion world very quickly. I worked quite a bit in Paris at the beginning of my career and grew passionate about high fashion there.

In 2007, after I had been modeling for many years, I took a trip to my hometown of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. During the visit I met with traditional weavers who were struggling due to a decline in demand for their hand woven goods. Their craftsmanship is incredible and I couldn’t imagine it fading. I wanted to preserve the art of weaving and I wanted to provide meaningful work for these artisans. That was the idea behind lemlem and it began from there.

-What does “lemlem” mean? What is the personal significance to you and how did you come up with the name?

lemlem means “to bloom” or “to flourish” in Amharic, the principle language of Ethiopia. The brand is all about beautiful hand woven fabrics and bright, happy colors – the name lemlem just felt right.

-Lemlem was inspired by your native home of Ethiopia, for those of us who have never been could you set the scene of the country a bit?

Ethiopia is such a unique and beautiful country. Its full of dramatic landscapes and you can feel its place in ancient history but at the same time it is incredibly dynamic. It’s called the “Lion of Africa” in economic circles because of the pace of growth there and there is a sense of energy that is invigorating. Still it faces major challenges. Close to my heart is the fight to improve women’s health and, today, I’m especially concerned about helping to raise awareness and donation as Ethiopia faces a very severe drought in the eastern part of the country that has left millions in need of food, health and relief assistance.

-Where does the importance of local production come from for you?

I guess it comes from thinking about what home means to me; And then seeing all this incredible potential in my home and across Africa that can be channeled to create a business that has the double impact of creating beautiful products that proudly celebrate artisanship and at the same time creating good, sustainable jobs that help communities thrive.

-Traditional weavers make up a large part of the production of the line, can you tell us a bit about their process and how they work?

lemlem fabrics are hand woven on wooden looms. Depending on the design of the garment, some pieces use a simpler construction while others involve intricate weaves, or what we call a “tebeb” weave. These can take a weaver several days to complete.

-Can you tell us also a bit about the Liya Kedede Foundation, which supports maternal health. How were you inspired to start this and what is your aim with the charity?

lemlem and my Foundation are like sisters in a way. They are both about creating change in Africa, hand in hand, through different approaches. At my Foundation we are dedicated to addressing one of the leading health concerns for women in Africa – surviving childbirth. While it seems a given here in the US, it isn’t in Africa. 200,000 women die giving birth every year in large part because there is a severe shortage of skilled health workers who can provide the essential medical care they need.

We partner with Amref Health Africa, Africa’s leading health development organization, to support their Stand Up for African Mothers campaign which aims to train 15,000 midwives across six countries in Africa, including Ethiopia. These midwives could reach 7.5 million women with maternity care.

-How can Rêve En Vert customers support your mission with the Foundation?

Three ways:

1. Tell your friends about our maternal health mission and help us raise awareness and build a network of supporters.
2. Consider making a donation at lkfound.org.
3. Or simply shop for an item that you love at lemlem.com – 5% of sales support the Foundation.

-Finally, can you tell us what sustainable fashion means to you?

Sustainable fashion means good business — whether you are focused on keeping the environment clean, or providing sustainable wages, good working conditions and training, or driving proceeds into tackling broader social issues. I think it is important that all fashion brands incorporate sustainability into their business.

Merci Liya. Shop the Rêve En Vert Lemlem selection HERE