COOL CRAFT: Fresh off the Louis Vuitton runway, Liya Kebede hosted a breakfast on Thursday to present her latest collection for Lemlem, the artisanal clothing line she founded in 2007.
Specialized in beach- and swimwear for women and children, the label is now looking to extend its range with the idea to become a lifestyle brand, the model-turned-designer said over a baguette and strawberry jam.
“Spring and resort are naturally our strongest seasons — there is a lot of beachwear. But we want to grow the categories that push fall and produce pieces, which you would want to wear in the city as well,” said Kebede, sporting a look from Lemlem’s fall collection: A pair of athletic single-pleat pants dyed in various shades of gray, which she had styled with a scarf, done in merino wool and mohair, a first for the brand.
Items retail for $130 for a scarf to $350 for a dress.
While most of the clothing is handmade and hand-woven by a group of 100 artisans in Ethiopia, whose craft Kebede is eager to preserve, Lemlem is also venturing into cut-and-sew pieces. “They are still made in Africa — that’s very important to us — just not by hand,” Kebede explained, adding that this allows for more novelty and flexibility to match the tastes of a global customer.
The entrepreneur projects that it’s just a matter of time before the continent’s unique merchandise will become a major textile player. “I can tell you, ‘we have seen wonderful growth.’ We grew over 25 percent and doubled our staff in 2014, and have been profitable for 3 years. But we are always trying to bring in shapes with a modern twist and keep the colors fresh. I think this also gives more value to the weavers, who know that their work comes first, not their story,” she noted.
Part of Lemlem’s growth strategy is to engage in collaborations, the first of which will be with espadrilles maker Soludos, slated for next summer.
The brand is available at Net-a-porter, Barneys New York and Le Bon Marché, among others. Parts of the proceeds go to The Liya Kebede Foundation, which fights to reduce maternal and child mortality.