When you think of Africa, what do you think?
While exotic safaris and wild animals would be a natural first response for many, Liya Kebede hopes people also think of something much more tangible: artisan textiles.
Ethiopia — a landlocked country located in the Horn of Africa nestled between South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea – boasts a growing textile industry that began when the country was under Italian occupation in 1939.
Encompassing weaving, spinning and processing techniques, the industry includes numerous publicly and privately owned factories creating clothing for national and international consumers and brands, according to ethiopianembassy.org.
In an attempt to increase the global awareness of her home country’s textile trade — in addition to preserving the art of weaving and promoting economic independence — Kebede added another line to her resumé (which already included supermodel and World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child health). The job title was designer.
Liya Kebede launched her clothing brand lemlem — which means to blossom and flourish in her native Ethiopian language of Amharic — in 2007 with the focus of offering hand-woven and hand-sewn clothing for men, women and children.
“Lemlem is very much a modern take on traditional styles and textiles I grew up wearing in Ethiopia,” Liya says. “Most of our collection is hand woven and sewn in Ethiopia from natural cotton with beautiful splashes of color.”
The line quickly became a go-to for the global style set who were searching for brightly colored and easy-to-wear summer staples that are “relaxed and luxurious,” according to Liya.
Expanding its reach in international markets with the help of retailers including Net-a-Porter, J.Crew and Shopbop, lemlem has since expanded its manufacturing reach to include Kenya in order to keep up with demand.