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In Conversation with Liya Kebede
sustainable fashion liya kibede

Model, actress, maternal health advocate, and designer Liya Kebede founded lemlem after visiting her native Ethiopia and seeing how traditional weavers struggled to maintain their craft and earn a living. Kebede launched lemlem as a way to employ traditional cotton weavers and using the textiles to produce garments for women, men, and children as well as  homewares—all made in Africa. 

Lemlem’s recent collaboration with The Woolmark Company, is an eight piece capsule travel collection hand-woven in Africa from Australian merino wool. It is a departure for the brand known for its summery cotton pieces, and required education of  its artisans on how to work with the new fiber. Kebede explains, “We are helping our weavers build skills so they can earn a good, sustainable living doing work they love and at the same time encouraging the fashion industry to look to Africa as a source of incredible high-quality craftsmanship.” 

We sat down with Kebede to learn more about her new collaboration and the inspiration behind it.

What inspired the partnership with Woolmark for this collection?

I had the opportunity to be part of the judging panel for The Woolmark Company’s International Prize a few years ago and we began discussing the idea to collaborate. At lemlem our collections are best-known for summer weather with our light, gauzy handwoven fabrics.  With Woolmark, we had this incredible opportunity to incorporate wool into a new sustainable travel collection, and Woolmark generously donated to lemlem Foundation’s artisan training programming. With their support, we ran a wool master class for our women weavers to learn the special characteristics of wool, and techniques to make beautiful creations with it. 

 What was the design inspiration behind the collection?

We are constantly inspired by our lemlem artisans who incorporate a modern take on symbols from Ethiopian culture in our collections.  The Hani blanket poncho in this collection features a traditional Ethiopian house as well as a woven table used in traditional coffee ceremonies. 

 How was working with merino wool different to designing previous collections? 

We are known for our resortwear, but more and more we are designing ready-to-wear pieces that can be worn year round. In designing with wool we were able to work with the texture in a different way and we were inspired by the wearability and other sustainable features of the fiber.  We selected extra-fine merino wool yarns from leading Italian spinner and Woolmark licensee, Zegna Baruffa Lane Borgosesia. 

 What item of clothing do you never you travel without?

I love wearing comfortable clothes and usually a cozy scarf. This lemlem x Woolmark collection is perfect for me because I travel often. I’m most excited about the “Giving Scarf” collection we made to accompany this collection. These scarves were produced by the women weavers trained in the wool master class. One hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated back to the lemlem Foundation to support education and service projects to benefit them and other women at their workshop. 

Words: Laura Jones

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