There’s a gravitational pull toward Liya Kebede. The slight frame, the uncertain smile … these are obvious attractions. But it’s her eyes from which there is no escape. Deep, dark, and soulful, they command the attention of all in her orbit.

She reminds you, with one look, that there there are supermodels and then there are supermodels. Liya Kebede falls squarely into the latter category.

Sure, she’s hands down one of the most beautiful women in the world, but her world is so much bigger than just posing in front of the camera.

Liya in lemlem clothing

This philanthropist-model is literally changing lives with her women’s and children’s clothing line, lemlem, which employs weavers in her native Ethiopia and continues to perserve their singular art form—an undeniable African aesthetic that’s been given a fresh update. Combined with her namesake foundation (which aims to reduce maternal, newborn, and infant mortality), Kebede is, well, a model example of using her success to pay it way forward.

Her clothing line lemlem was started to a) employ people in Ethiopia and help preserve the art of traditional weaving, and b) encourage others to invest and manufacture in Ethiopia and Africa.

“Everything is designed in the U.S. and handwoven in Ethiopia. It’s a model for others to come in and do bigger and bigger things.”

And she’s not short on style chops, either. Liya’s learned a thing or two about dressing for success. Indeed, this three-time US Vogue cover girl has landed campaigns for Louis Vuitton, YSL, and Gap, and in 2003 was the first black model to become a face of Estée Lauder, before becoming the global ambassador for L’Oreal. So, it’s no wonder we’re obsessed with her effortless look.

Among her biggest supporters: Tom Ford, whom she credits with her first big break in 2000; Dolce & Gabbana; and Proenza Schouler.

Having walked countless runways and shot a slew of ad campaigns (and had two children), the world-famous model turns her focus toward the big screen.

She also starred in the 2011 film Desert Flower—based on the book of the same name— which is the true story of Waris Dirie’s journey from tribal Somalia to top model. In the lead role, Kebede took on Dirie’s every anguish including Dirie’s crude female circumcision as a child.

When asked what epople think of her country of birth, Ethiopia says the misconceptions are many and not just limited to Ethiopia but to the whole of Africa.

“Most of the media concentrates on what’s not going well. But there is so much beauty there. When you go, it changes everything. It changes you, your life, and the way you see things. The challenge is changing the image of Africa that’s been anchored in people for years now.”


Asked if she always wanted to be a model she says it’s something that she always thought about.

“Since I was a child, watching films has been one of the things that I enjoy the most. That, and reading books. I always found a way to live something else. Five years ago I started taking acting lessons. I enjoyed it so much that it opened up a whole new world for me.” In 2011, she filmed Black Gold with Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto and says that because the modeling and acting worlds are very close, she’s continue to dabble in both.

We wish this amazing woman, mama and wife the very best as she continues to shine the way for Africa!



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