– EN Fashion – Liya Kebede accidentally became a fashion entrepreneur because she wanted to help weavers in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian model, who has worked with the likes of Gucci and Estee Lauder, founded Lemlem in 2008 after going to a market while visiting family in Addis Ababa and noticing that the people who made handwoven clothes had no business. She used her own money to hire a designer, stylist and a few weavers to make Western-style clothes using those traditional techniques.
In a new interview with PORTER magazine, Liya admitted becoming the founder and creative director of a fashion brand was never one of her life goals.
“I am completely, 100 per cent, an accidental entrepreneur… I had no desire to do a brand,” she said, explaining that she had always wanted to help people in her native country but she “didn’t know in what capacity” and when she founded the label, “I thought I was just fixing something.”
Lemlem, which means “to bloom” in Amharic, now sells to vendors around the world and has recently opened offices in New York. It also employs 250 weavers in Addis Ababa and five per cent of its sales go to the Lemlem Foundation, which supports women artisans in Africa.
“Every time I see someone wearing Lemlem, I have a ‘wow’ moment – because I know how far we have come,” the 41-year-old gushed.
Liya has also collaborated with her designer friends, with her team recently adding colourful borders to “puffer” gowns created by Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli for Moncler.
“It has this feeling of depth and warmth, and a sense that there is another dimension to them,” she continued. “It bridges these things that you didn’t think could be bridged.”