Liya Kebede has graced the grand runways of Paris and Milan, but now she's headlining her biggest role, in Africa. After growing up in an environment where everyone knew at least one family who suffered the loss of a mother, the Ethiopian supermodel opened The Liya Kebede Foundation. The non-profit was launched with Kebede's appointment as World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador and works effortlessly to reduce the number of maternal and newborn deaths. Ten years later and the efforts have educated thousands and improved health facilities via partnerships with brands such as David Yurman.
As only a mother can, Kebede balances her duties as an activist with her role as a designer. Her brand Lemlem stems from the Amharic word for bloom, and that is exactly what Kebede is helping Ethiopian artisans do. All of the label's pieces are weaved in the country using natural cotton fibers in efforts to break the cycle of poverty.
Kebede has rightfully earned all of these titles through her compassion and hard work, but there's one that her son Suhul and daughter Raee love best, and that's Mom. Find out what the busy mother has planned for Mother's Day, what really keeps her inspired, and more in our interview below.
What inspires you to work with organizations in Africa that support women and children?
Ten years ago I began working as a maternal health advocate. I had recently become a mother myself and I knew that millions of women in Africa and around the world did not have the maternity services I did and many were dying from preventable complications during pregnancy and childbirth. I had to get involved to call attention to this senseless loss of life. Mothers are the center of the family and I believe one of the greatest challenges of our time is making sure each one of us, no matter where we live, has access to good care.
What is your biggest inspiration to grow or expand Lemlem?
I am passionate about supporting the work of artisans in Ethiopia and preserving the ancient art form that is the hand woven process. A major goal of the brand is to utilize not only the production capabilities in Africa, but also showcase the creative energy coming out of Africa.
Which women did you admire as a kid?
My mom has always been an inspiration to me. She was determined to give us the best opportunities and support to follow our dreams and along the way she always encouraged us to think big.
What were you like as a kid?
I was the girl who sat in the corner buried in her book.
What do you miss about being a kid?
I miss the carefree nature of childhood. I loved growing up in Addis Ababa and spending time with my friends and family. I went to the Lycée French School in Addis Ababa, which is where I made many of my friends and it really helped to shape who I am today.
Any plans for Mother's Day?
I’m looking forward to spending Mother's Day at home with my kids. They always do something that makes the day extra enjoyable and full of love.
What's the best Mother's Day gift you've ever received?
The homemade gifts my children have made over the years are my favorites. But mostly, Mother's Day for me is a time to think about how special motherhood is and what I hope we all can do together to make it safer for more women.