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25th September 2020

POC around the block 1: Liya Kebede

Anna Jin explores the work of accomplished model, designer, and humanitarian, Liya Kebede for her series POC around the block
POC around the block 1: Liya Kebede
Photo of Liya Kebede: Nicolas Genin @Wikimedia Commons

The political climate of today provides, more than ever, a chance to shift our discussions about fashion and freedom to increase diversity and uplift non-white voices.

In this series, our columnist Anna Jin brings attention to the unique and talented people of colour working in fashion, as a group in the industry that is often overlooked.

Liya Kebede is an Ethiopian model, humanitarian and creator of LemLem. Born in Addis Ababa, Kebede moved to Paris when she was 18 to begin her modelling career. She was an instant success.

In her first season, she signed an exclusive contract with Tom Ford at his 2000 Gucci Fall/Winter Fashion Show, and has since appeared on the cover of Paris Vogue and M Le magazine du Monde.


LemLem, Kebede’s ethical fashion brand, is mostly known for its flowing kaftans and loose-fitting dresses. It was founded in 2007 to support African craftsmanship and offer jobs to local artisans.

The brand also strives to preserve traditional weaving techniques in Ethiopia. This skill is no longer in demand, but LemLem provides a market for traditional weavers to create stylish contemporary apparel.

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Love our #lemlemgirl 💓

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However, the brand’s commitment to respecting traditional methods comes with challenges.

Their weaving techniques use hand spun and locally sourced cotton, which have no stretch and are often undyed. Kebede has incorporated these features into the brand’s aesthetic: luxurious, loose-fitting beachwear in classic colours.

LemLem also collaborates with African artisans to include traditions and designs from many cultures. This includes crochet patterns from Kenya, advanced knitting techniques from Madagascar, and embroidery from Rwanda.

The brand continues to look for new ways of embracing African traditions in their collections.

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To everyone who has recently joined our Lemlem family, who has tagged us and shared the love, thank you 💜 To everyone who after all these years is with us, welcome home ⭐️ Lemlem in Amharic means to bloom. To flourish. And maybe there is no better time to give the opportunity to small, ethical brands made in Africa to do exactly that. To Grow. We started Lemlem in Ethiopia to support local weavers in finding a market for their craft. It has since expanded with swimwear in Morocco and ready to wear in Kenya. But it is, we hope, so much more than this. With every purchase, you also help support the mission of our foundation to help women artisans in Africa thrive by connecting them to healthcare, education and pathways to jobs. With every purchase, you support another artisan and by definition their extended family, who often come and learn the art of weaving, passed on to the next generations in a beautifully poetic, cyclical manner. We believe that change is on its way and NOW more than ever, we will pursue our work and our mission. THANKS TO YOU. Your continued support over the years and especially during these challenging times has given us hope anew to make the world a better place. Together 💜

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Ever since its creation, LemLem has been a sustainable business.

They use locally sourced cotton and donate any excess fabric to educational programmes, so that nothing goes to waste. They have also started to utilise recyclable tags and compostable packaging.

Kebede has also founded the LemLem foundation, which offers programmes to educate women in the art of weaving.

Liya Kebede has continued to passionately champion for the rights of women in both LemLem and humanitarian endeavours. Kebede is unstoppable; I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

Anna Jin

Anna Jin

Instagram & Twitter: @annahanjin

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