NEW YORK, United States — “I like to think of it as a systemic shift, because it’s not just in fashion,” says Liya Kebede of the inclusivity movement that is taking over runways and magazine covers worldwide. “There’s a movement going on. There’s a sense of acceptance and inclusivity of the individual person.”
Ethiopian-born Kebede began her career as a model in her native country, but soon decided to move to Paris to pursue opportunities internationally. Her first experiences were “very harsh and violent,” she says. But her big break came after casting agent James Scully introduced her to Tom Ford. “He was unbelievable. Such a genius, and you saw it, and he breathed it, and he lived it. There was a real energy.” Kebede was also the first black model to sign a contract with Estée Lauder, which she describes as a “historic” moment, but one which came with a lot of responsibility.
Today, Kebede is also a philanthropist and entrepreneur. In 2005, she was appointed as WHO Goodwill Ambassador and founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, whose mission is to reduce maternal, new-born and child mortality. “A lot of it has to do with growing up in Ethiopia, seeing poverty and understanding the different life that people live, and the different access and opportunities that people get depending where [they] were born,” she says.
Kebede has also launched an ethical made-in-Africa clothing line, Lemlem, with the aim of making a global sustainable lifestyle luxury brand.
As to where she envisions the future for the continent? “I don’t just want Africa to be seen as a place where you manufacture at low cost,” she says. “I want it to be a place where you manufacture incredible high-end fashion.”
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