Lemlem: Fashion Benefitting Ethiopia

With a discerning eye for detail and the bigger picture, a model Liya Kebede produces a line that betters her native Ethiopia.

Long before I met the model Liya Kebede, I fell in love with Lemlem. A friend wore one of the label's signature neon print scarves during a vacation in Tulum, Mexico, and the lightweight cotton was so perfectly beachy that I had to have one — or better yet, two. My obsession only deepened when I discovered that every thread has a backstory. In 2007, Kebede founded Lemlem — which means "to flourish or bloom" in Amharic — in an effort to provide economic stability and spur growth for Ethiopia's traditional weavers while preserving an ancient craft. What started out as a small collection of scarves, all handwoven in Kebede's homeland, has since expanded to tunics, maxi dresses, shoes, pants, and home and children's lines. Last October, the model, who'd gotten wind of my Lemlem love and ethical-fashion advocacy, asked me to be featured in her spring look book. Posing for the woman whose face has carried campaigns for the likes of Balenciaga, Estée Lauder, and Bottega Veneta could have been more than a little daunting, but Kebede, who now lives in New York with her financier husband and their two kids, walked me through every shot. "I've been told the best way to make a sexy face is to say pruuune," she advised, laughing. Easy for her to say: Between her good looks and do-gooding, Kebede is a picture of beauty inside and out.

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