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Supermodel Liya Kebede Connects Traditional Ethiopian Weavers To New York's Hottest Boutiques

Lemlem's high fashion line of handmade clothes is also preserving a way of life in Ethiopia.

Liya Kebede isn’t out to build a fashion empire. "As much as I want it to be humongous," says the Ethiopian super model, "there’s a limit to how big it can get." That's because Lemlem shirts, scarves, and dresses are designed in New York, but made from handwoven materials crafted by traditional weavers in Kebede's home country. That said, "humongous" may be a relative term: Lemlem’s products are already available at boutiques around the world from Manama, Bahrain to Jackson, Mississippi, and at large retailers like Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale's.

The clothing line provides employment for practitioners of a centuries-old tradition that was facing extinction. "I visited an area of these incredible weavers that we’ve always had in Ethiopia who make incredible work but don’t really have the space to sell their clothes anymore," Kebede says in this week's episode of Innovation Agents. "It’s one thing to donate money. It’s a whole other thing to give an opportunity for someone to make his own money." And that's how Lemlem—which means "to bloom" in Amharic—was founded five years ago.

In a 2010 Time magazine article, fashion designer Tom Ford wrote of 32-year-old Kebede, "In today’s world, celebrity advocates are not rare. What is rare is to encounter one whose devotion and drive come from a genuine desire to better our world." Kebede leads a foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women and children around the world, and was named the World Health Organization's Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal Newborn and Child Health in 2005. She is also one of the heroes on our League of Extraordinary Women list.

For many activists, the results of their good deeds can only be seen far from home. Not so for Kebede. "When I see Lemlem walking around New York City, it’s just mind-boggling, because I know it came from this one man sitting and weaving this little product."

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  • Daniel Jemberu

    i have big ideas!and i'm best for this buissness but i dont have money!i need help! is my email please connect me!

  • Dawit Seifu Abe

    am happy 4 ur company lemlem .am shemane work in shiromeda.can u give me a chance to do something togezer?

  • Ayanew


    You are a Junk.

    It is easy to know what kind worthless
    and valueless creature You are.

    There are enough Tigrigna Eritreans like you behaving the same hateful way on the
    internet. We know you.

    You are suffering from mental illness that will leave you after your death in

  • Justin Beke

    We are proud of you Liya..............keep it up...........who knows perhaps you might open your own clothing/textile factory in Ethiopia and employ thousands of Ethiopians

  • henok

    Liya is not a big deal for Ethiopians. She does not want to be associated or participate.  She is juts want to trade in our name.  Just ask the vibrant Ethiopian community in the United States, Liya has done nothing for the community or her country.  Even in the Obama era, she is all about kissing ferenj peoples behind.  We like our models proud abehsa like Maya, not Liya!

  • Alemush

     You should be ashamed of yourself!!!!!!!!!!!!  Our country never moves forward because of people like you! Obviously, you have no idea of what you are talking about, but yet dare to put down someone trying to good to our people in this public forum. SHAME ON YOU!!

  • jusin

    Everybody knows Henok is not an Ethiopian,,,eerybody knows he's an Eritrean extremist.

  • Proudly Ethiopian

    It's no mystery why as Ethiopian's we are always behind! We would rather bring down than go up! Let her "trade in our name" at least she is having our country mentioned in a good way! What have u done to change the outlook of our country???? Stop fussing over your misery and accept what others can do, if you are good enough do it urself and pull yourself up!

  • Newlifeinmd

    You did nothing but talk ..... Do something for your community ,she is the best