Liya Kebede – WOMAN of ACTION™



A Celebration of Women™

is elated to Celebrate the Life of this young woman, one that has risen above circumstance, achieved her goals and is now using her powers of influence to Take Action and create positive change in our world, with a focus on Women and Children.






Liya Kebede


Liya Kebede




Liya Kebede (Amharic: ሊያ ከበደ?) (born January 3, 1978) is an Ethiopian born model, maternal health advocate, clothing designer and actress who has appeared three times on the cover of US Vogue. According to Forbes, Kebede was the eleventh-highest-paid top model in the world in 2007.

Liya_Kebede2 runwayKebede was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A film director spotted her while she was attending Lycee Guebre Mariam and introduced her to a French modeling agent. After completing her studies, she moved to France to pursue work through a Parisian agency.

Kebede later relocated to New York City. She has remarked that the modeling industry in Ethiopia is quite different from the catwalks on which she is now ubiquitous because in Ethiopia she had to provide her own shoes for each runway show.

Kebede’s big break came when Tom Ford asked her for an exclusive contract for his Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 fashion show. Her popularity in the fashion industry skyrocketed when she appeared on the cover of the May 2002 edition of Paris Vogue, which dedicated the entire issue to her.

Kebede has been seen on the covers of Italian, Japanese, American, French and Spanish Vogue, V, Flair, i-D and Time’s Style & Design.

Kebede has been featured in ad campaigns including those for Shiatzy Chen, Gap, Yves Saint-Laurent, Victoria’s Secret, Emanuel Ungaro, Tommy Hilfiger, Revlon, Dolce & Gabbana, Escada and Louis Vuitton.

In 2003, she was named the newest face of Estée Lauder cosmetics, the only Ethiopian to serve as their representative in the company’s 57-year history. Her contract was rumored to be worth $3 million dollars. At this time in Kebede’s career, she was ranked #1 on


In 2005, Kebede was appointed as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. She then founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, whose mission is to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality in Ethiopia and around the world.

175px-BillMelindaGatesFoundation.svgThe Foundation funds advocacy and awareness raising projects as well as providing direct support for low-cost technologies, community-based education, and training and medical programs.

Kebede has traveled to Ethiopia to support maternal health projects on multiple occasions.

In 2009, she worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of their Living Proof Project.

Kebede served as a High-Level adviser for the Center for Global Development’s 2009 report “Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health.”

“The health of adolescent girls is everyone’s business. We all need to step up to the plate to embrace this ambitious agenda.” — Melinda Gates

Improving the health of adolescent girls in the developing world is the key to improving maternal and child health, reducing the impact of HIV, and accelerating social and economic development.

Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health sheds light on the realities of girls’ health and well-being in developing countries, on the links between the health of girls and the prospects for their families, and on the specific actions that will improve health prospects for millions.

This report describes the most prevalent and serious health problems adolescent girls face in developing countries, linking them to a combination of specific public-health risks and social determinants of health. It highlights the diverse ways in which governments and non-governmental organizations have sought—often successfully, albeit on small scale—to break vicious cycles of ill health. Finally, and most importantly, the report lays out an ambitious yet feasible agenda for governments, donors, the private sector, and civil society organizations—complete with estimates of indicative costs.

Supermodel Liya Kebede Connects Traditional Ethiopian Weavers To New York’s Hottest Boutiques

Lemlem’s high fashion line of handmade clothes is also preserving a way of life in Ethiopia.

Liya Kebede isn’t out to build a fashion empire. “As much as I want it to be humongous,” says the Ethiopian super model, “there’s a limit to how big it can get.”

That’s because Lemlem shirts, scarves, and dresses are designed in New York, but made from handwoven materials crafted by traditional weavers in Kebede’s home country.

Liya Kebede-Connects-Traditional-Ethiopian-Weavers-to-New-York

That said, “humongous” may be a relative term: Lemlem’s products are already available at boutiques around the world from Manama, Bahrain to Jackson, Mississippi, and at large retailers like Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale’s.

The clothing line provides employment for practitioners of a centuries-old tradition that was facing extinction. “I visited an area of these incredible weavers that we’ve always had in Ethiopia who make incredible work but don’t really have the space to sell their clothes anymore,” Kebede says in this week’s episode of Innovation Agents.

“It’s one thing to donate money. It’s a whole other thing to give an opportunity for someone to make his own money.” And that’s how Lemlem–which means “to bloom” in Amharic–was founded five years ago.

In a 2010 Time magazine article, fashion designer Tom Ford wrote of 32-year-old Kebede, “In today’s world, celebrity advocates are not rare. What is rare is to encounter one whose devotion and drive come from a genuine desire to better our world.”

innovation-agents-referKebede leads a foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women and children around the world, and was named the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal Newborn and Child Health in 2005. She is also one of the heroes on our League of Extraordinary Women list.

For many activists, the results of their good deeds can only be seen far from home. Not so for Kebede. “When I see Lemlem walking around New York City, it’s just mind-boggling, because I know it came from this one man sitting and weaving this little product.”

Kebede writes for The Huffington Post about maternal and child health and has been featured in Vogue and on The Daily Beast. She is also part of the Champions for an HIV Free Generation, an organization of African leaders led by former Botswana President Festus Mogae. The Champions advocate for increased HIV prevention and treatment efforts in Africa.

Liya_Kebede_David_Shankbone_2010In July 2007, earning at an estimated total of $2.5 million in the past 12 months, Forbes named her eleventh in the list of the World’s 15 Top-Earning Supermodels.

In 2008 casting agent James Scully, who is responsible to pick which model is to score a spot on top runways, says in regards to Kebede:
An all-time eternal favorite for me — she’s an exotic Grace Kelly. Models work for years to develop the poise, grace, and style that she came to the business already equipped with! It still shocks me that I sometimes have to sell her to a client, but every time she walks in the room, she always proves me right.

In 2009, Kebede starred in the film-adaption of the bestselling autobiography Desert Flower by former supermodel Waris Dirie. The film recounts Dirie’s childhood in Somalia, her rise to stardom and subsequent awareness campaign against female circumcision. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and received a standing ovation. Kebede has also had minor roles in two films: The Good Shepherd and Lord of War.

In 2011, Kebede was among the models featured in Lacoste’s “new look” campaign in January, a different advertising concept for the year, under the new tagline, “Unconventional Chic”. The ads were shot by Mert and Marcus, showing models wearing the iconic white Lacoste polo shirts worn over fancy black eveningwear.

Kebede is currently ranked at #13 on icons list.

There are some who say that beauty is only skin-deep, and that many who appear beautiful outside may not be as good on the inside. But if you meet Liya Kebede, you would definitely prove these people wrong. Her natural, flawless beauty on the outside is matched by her compassionate and loving heart.

Let us learn more about this fantastic woman and see what makes her so extraordinary.

Liya-Kebede-Harpers-Bazaar-Spain-5Liya Kebede is a world renowned fashion supermodel, designer and women’s advocate who has appeared numerous times in several famous fashion magazines such as Vogue, and has been featured in numerous fashion shows by popular fashion brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger, Escada, Emanuel Ungaro, and Yves Saint-Laurent.

Liya is also the ‘first woman of color‘ that represented the Estee Lauder brand, a world famous company that manufactures skin care, make-up, fragrance, and hair care products.

Liya’s natural beauty and talent for modelling has allowed her to become a very successful fashion model to the point that she is currently listed as one of the World’s Top Earning Models by Forbes magazine, making Liya only the second Ethiopian to have been included in the Forbes magazine’s Richest List, the first one being Mohammed Al Amoudi.

Many fashion critics have praised Liya for being such a natural in the modelling industry. Whenever Liya steps up to the ramp and walks during a fashion show, she brings such a surprise to the crowd by making her poses seem very effortless for her. Liya has such a talent for modelling that even James Scully, a talent hunter who is responsible for picking the models who would walk on the top runways, keeps getting amazed by Liya. He said of her during an interview:

“An all-time eternal favorite for me — she’s an exotic Grace Kelly. Models work for years to develop the poise, grace, and style that she came to the business already equipped with! It still shocks me that I sometimes have to sell her to a client, but every time she walks in the room, she always proves me right.”

Liya’s spectacular rise to fame and stardom in the fashion world is an inspiring story in itself because during that time, only the Caucasians dominated the runways. There were many times in her earlier career that Liya was turned down simply because she was of a different color, but she never let the critical voices weigh her down. When she developed her goal and desire of becoming a fashion model, Liya never let the obstacles stop her from reaching the goal – it kept her going on and on, being persistent in spite of all the negative situations and voices that tried to discourage her.

In an interview made with her, Liya stated:

“If you don’t have a dream in life, I don’t know what you have. You have to want something beyond your reach; it’s exciting when it works out.”

Liya is also a well-known businesswoman, having founded her own company which she named Lemlem. Lemlem, which in her mother tongue means “to bloom”, is Liya’s way of not only preserving and promoting Ethiopian culture, but is also her means of giving jobs to her fellow countrymen by having the clothes made by hand in Ethiopia. Lemlem designs are being sold in many boutique shops around the world today, such as Barney’s, J.Crew and

liya WHOBut apart from all the successes that Liya has achieved in her career, what makes her very fascinating is for her to have the time to engage herself in philanthropic work. Liya is an active advocate of maternal welfare, and is a World Health Organization Ambassador for Maternal, New born and Child Health.

Liya has also founded her own charitable organization, the Liya Kebede Foundation, in an effort to reduce the mortality rates of pregnant mothers and newly-born children around the world.

In an interview, Liya revealed how she has the desire of helping mothers and children internationally:

“I am driven by the desire to help save the lives of mothers and children worldwide. I was lucky to give birth in New York City, so I didn’t have to worry about whether my child and I would survive. I am grateful to be a maternal health advocate. It’s something that gives me so much back.”

Currently, Liya actively engages in her activities as a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and especially as a model. She also exposes herself more in the show business, but she says that she would still put modelling above a show business career.



The Ethiopian Ministry of Health launched an innovative program to place health extension workers in every village to ensure that all Ethiopians have access to basic preventative health care. The 30,000 health extension workers are young women from the communities they serve. They provide a wide array of services to their communities from nutritional counseling and immunizations to hygiene and family planning. The Health Extension Workers are the first line of defense in Ethiopia’s health system and the most able to reach at-risk women.

The Liya Kebede Foundation is working to support these young women and their work.

She states:

Modeling still excites me. It is a great form of expression for me. I have been lucky enough to work with incredibly talented people. I’ll never forget seeing my first French Vogue cover and spread. Seeing all those images of myself in a magazine like that — it gave me such a thrill! Another exciting moment was my first American Vogue shoot. It was a big group shot, of all top models, by Steven Meisel. I was in awe. And smitten with the profession.”

Kebede married Ethiopian hedge fund manager Kassy Kebede in 2000. They have two children together: son Suhul (2001) and daughter Raee (August 2005). As of 2007, the family resides in New York City.



social-mediaFIND Liya HERE:

WHO [World Health Organization] – Liya Kebede

IMDb – Liya Kebede

Liya Kebede – The Xtraodinary

Twitter – @liyakebede

Facebook – Liya Kebede

Facebook – The Liya Kebede Foundation


A Celebration of Women™

welcomes this power of example for all women, looking forward to celebrating, collaborating adn supporting all future positive actions for the Mothers and Children of our world.


Brava Liya!



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