Liya Kebede; The Super Model Entrepreneur and Philanthropist

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Liya Kebede

The composed 5ft 10inch lady cannot enter a room with drawing the attention of most people present, male and female. Stunningly beautiful, graceful and self-assured, Liya Kebede is a Supermodel of great renown who once graced the Forbes list of the world’s 15 Top-Earning Supermodels in 2007, the Time’s 100 list of Most Influential People in the World in 2010, and was the first Ethiopian and woman of colour to represent the Estee Lauder brand in all its 57 years of existence. Liya was the face of Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Lacoste and Tiffany’s & Co. She has appeared on the covers of seemingly innumerable magazines including Vogue [US, Spanish, French, Italian and Russian editions], Vanity Fair, i-D, Numero, Italian Flair, Essence, Harpers & Queen, and Harper’s Bazaar. Her days as a runway model were well-filled with appearances on some of fashion’s greatest runways as she has walked the fall Anna Sui, Calvin Klein, Burberry, Fendi, Marni, and Chanel shows in New York, Milan, and Paris amongst others… Just in case you were still in doubt.

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Liya grew up in her hometown, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Discovered by a film Director as a student, Liya relocated to France to source for work via a Paris-based agency. After a few years of relative obscurity, she hit the big time in 2000 when Tom Ford [Fashion designer and Film Director] asked her for an exclusive contract for his Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 fashion show. Her reputation received a further when she graced the cover of the May 2002 edition of Paris Vogue, which dedicated the entire issue to her. The rest they say is history.

Not satisfied with being a pretty face with a stunning body, Liya founded the Liya Kebede Foundation on the heels of her appointment as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. The Liya Kebede Foundation is dedicated to saving the lives of mothers and children and is committed to ensuring that every woman, no matter where she lives, has access to life-saving care in Ethiopia and Africa. The Foundation works to educate policy makers and support programs that save lives in partnership with governments, non-governmental organizations, corporations and affected communities.

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In 2009, Liya served with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of their Living Proof Project, and in 2010, the World Economic Forum named her a Young Global Leader. Liya is also part of the Champions for an HIV Free Generation, an organization of African leaders led by former Botswana President Festus Mogae. And that’s not all!!!

So, Liya is home in Ethiopia and she observes that a centuries-old craft of traditional weaving is suffering from a decline in local demand, and the weavers are losing their jobs. Her ‘eureka!’ moment occurs and she founds LemLem in 2007 for the three-fold purpose of preserving the art of weaving, inspiring economic independence  and clothing women and children in the beautiful hand-woven materials which are designed in New York. Lemlem, -which means to flourish or bloom in Amharic, – 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.

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Liya is married and a mother to two children.

Tom Ford had this to say about this remarkable lady; “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. Liya’s work comes from a place of sincerity, and her beauty is much more than skin-deep.”

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© 2013 – 2017, Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya. All rights reserved.

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