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GLAMOUR Exclusive with Liya Kebede on the lemlem x H&M collection

Liya Kebede
Liya Kebede

Ethiopian supermodel, actress and women’s empowerment advocate Liya Kebede chats about the lemlem x H&M collaboration, her career and hopes for the future.

H&M and lemlem just announced their collaboration on a chic summer collection that we’re absolutely excited about!

The timeless lemlem x H&M collaboration features the traditional handwoven materials ,often found in lemlem’s pieces, in a collection of cover-ups, sundresses, tops, shorts, trousers, swimwear, jewellery and accessories.

Crafted from sustainable materials including organic linen, recycled polyester and Tencel™ Lyocell, each piece is about being joyful. The lemlem x H&M collection is sunny, light and breezy.

lemlem’s signature stripes and colour-blocking sit alongside the key elements of fluidity and soft textures. The colour palette includes shades of blue, white, bright orange, soft pink, neons and a hint of pale yellow.

The collection will be available in South Africa on the 14th of October 2021 in Sandton City, Mall of Africa, V&A Waterfront, Canal Walk and Gateway Theatre of Shopping stores.

Take a look at the exclusive Q&A with Liya Kebede below and view the lemlem x H&M collection in the image gallery.

1. What motivated you to start your own label?

A dream to share the best of the craftsmanship I grew up with at home in Ethiopia - and to help the incredible community of artisans there. That’s what motivated me and it’s the story of lemlem. I never thought about having my own brand - until I suddenly saw it as a solution to create sustainable jobs so traditional weavers from my country could make a good living doing what they love, channeling their incredible skill into the beautiful, modern collections that we sell around the world.

2. Did your modelling career give you any special insight into starting a fashion label?

Absolutely. I learned so much from being in the room with designers during fittings and shows, seeing how clothes are fitted, the visual balance, and the creativity and feeling that goes into each piece. It's been a joy to take that experience and translate it into my work at lemlem. I don't have the gift of sketching, but I have an eye for proportions, and for that magic combination of fit, texture, and simplicity that makes a woman feel beautiful in what’s she’s wearing.

3. What are the key influences in your designs? For the brand? Why are you drawn to these things?

Color – that’s where it starts. We get a lot of our inspiration from the amazingly diverse and vast nature across Africa. Sometimes we’ll start with a sunset or a vista and we’ll make those colors the centerpiece of our patterns. The weavers will get started from there hand making the fabric that is then transformed into our collections.

4. How would you describe the lemlem woman?

Optimistic, she has many dimensions, many roles, like me – and at the root of it she wants to see real, positive change, sustainability and opportunity.

5. As founder and creative director, what does a typical day at lemlem look like for you?

There’s no such thing and that’s what I love about it. No two days are alike. Monday I’m in a design team meeting; Tuesday I’m working on strategy and budgets with our CEO; Wednesday I’m looking at our foundation’s projects; Thursday I’m modelling and calling our design studio telling them, “I just saw something and I’m obsessed!” Even into the weekend and holidays, I’ll be taking photos wearing lemlem and thinking about how to share our collections with more and more people.

6. What are your views on sustainability and the role fashion can play?

Right from the start sustainability was at the center of our discussions around this collaboration. It was important to both H&M and lemlem that we could bring our ideas and values together to ensure we could source more sustainable materials and produce the collections following high ethical standards. I think someone like H&M, putting a focus on sustainability and raising awareness – with the reach that they have, that matters.

7. Can you talk us through the H&M collaboration?

When we first spoke to H&M, they told us how much they loved the handwoven materials we were using at lemlem – our colours and stripes. So in this collaboration, we combined all of the things that we both love. lemlem is about being joyful – it’s sunny, light and breezy. Bringing that spirit into the collaboration was key for us, and we did this together by adding florals and neons alongside our signature stripes. I’m at my best when what I’m wearing is soft and comfortable, and so it was important for me to bring that wonderful fluidity and texture into the collection, too. With H&M we achieved all this – a light, happy, bright and soft collection using more sustainable materials.

8. Are there any surprising elements with the collaboration?

We're so excited about having jewellery because at lemlem, it isn’t normally part of our collections and it was such fun incorporating it in. That's the amazing thing with collaborations — you get a chance to experiment with different ideas and create something entirely new. And then also, because swimwear is very important to lemlem now, and H&M has such a popular swim line, it was a terrific experience bringing our concepts together to create such a beautiful swim set with amazing prints and colours.

9. What was it like to work with H&M on the collaboration?

Designing this collection together during Covid was a challenge! We’ve done so much work together now that it’s crazy when I remember that we haven’t actually ever been face to face. When we planned the collaboration before the pandemic, I imagined that we would be in a design studio together, brainstorming and having afternoons looking at fabrics. Being together had to mean something different this past year. It called on our creativity in a different way. We even did our fittings remotely; I tried things on in front of a mirror, pinned them and sent photos. In the end, it's just amazing how you can bridge the distance when your hearts are fully in it. I’m so happy and proud of the group effort and what we were able to create – everything is absolutely lovely and joyful.

10. Why collaborate with H&M?

I love that H&M has always been at the forefront of doing cool collaborations with brands. So for lemlem, it’s very exciting to become a part of that group of labels. I also appreciate the reach that H&M has, with a huge community. To be able to introduce our brand to them is a wonderful opportunity.

11. What are your hopes or ambitions for the collaboration?

I want people to jump to get every piece and have great times wearing them out and making new happy memories as we get out into the sun again.

12. What are you most proud of with the collaboration?

I was excited to see the full collection complete with jewellery for the first time. We had so much fun along the way adding more and more touches and accessories - then seeing everything on the four different girls featured in the campaign was amazing. I love how it flattered and fit everyone, and how they each looked so happy in it.

13. What are your favourite pieces from the collaboration and why? How would you personally style them?

I adore the slip dress, which has such a beautiful fit. And I love the trousers, too. I'm always a trousers girl! I’m wearing one size up from my norm so it’s a loosey-loose look and feel, with the big shirt or the caftan. That's my look — the tunic with trousers — I feel so cool and chic in them.

14. What was it like to shoot the collaboration with your daughter Raee?

It was such an amazing experience - a real gift - to be together and share that. lemlem is also part of Raee’s story too. When she was born, her grandmother said, “I’m not going to call her Raee, I’m going to nickname her lemlem” (which means blossoming) - and that’s what she does. When I started the brand, I wanted an Ethiopian name, and I asked my head designer to bring in some names she liked too so we’d each offer our perspectives on it. She came up with ten names and one was “lemlem”. The minute I saw it I knew that was it. It was a sign.

15. What are your hopes for the future?

An end to the madness - the hatred and violence throughout the world, on top of everything else we've all been going through. I hope we all can start by finding some serenity and peace within ourselves and then extend that outward, showing people that they aren’t forgotten. That’s my hope.

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