What They Were Doing Then: Liya Kebede

If nothing else, I want women to understand that they are powerful. If you look back at history, in almost every big moment, in every leap forward, you find ordinary women at the core. We have more ability to make changes in the world than we can imagine if we have the courage to try. 

Just like Shelby Welinder, our featured muse of the week, Liya Kebede does it all. An Ethiopian-born model, maternal health advocate, clothing designer, business owner, philanthropist, journalist, and actress, Kebede never shies away from a challenge or an opportunity to make a difference.

liya-kebede-vogue-paris-may-2015Not only is Kebede a household name in the world of modeling (she’s been around for over a decade, yet she just landed another Vogue cover), but she has also made her mark as a designer with her clothing line Lemlem, which aims to preserve the hand-spun, woven, and embroidered clothing traditions of her home country of Ethiopia by providing work to local artisans.


Perhaps most impactful of all her accomplishments, Kebede has worked as the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health since 2005. She also founded the Liya Kebede Foundation with the goal of reducing maternal, newborn, and child mortality in Ethiopia by raising awareness worldwide and providing direct support and education to struggling communities. In hopes of spreading awareness in the United States, Kebede regularly contributes to The Huffington Post on these issues, and her writing has been featured in numerous other publications.

Obviously, Kebede boasts quite the resume. But what did her life look like when she was just getting started? After being discovered in Ethiopia by a French modeling agency at the age of 18, Kebede moved to Paris to pursue a career in modeling, something she had never seriously considered until she was approached. Her modeling progressed, although not rapidly at first. Fortunately for us and the rest of the admiring world, her big break came in 2000 (Kebede was 22) when Tom Ford requested an exclusive contract with her for the Gucci Fall/Winter fashion show. The rest is (beautiful, posed, and iconic) history.


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