Liya Kebede was on vacation last summer when she got to know Ancient Greek Sandals co-founder and designer Christina Martini. “The collaboration happened organically,” said Kebede, a veteran model and actress and the creative director of the African-made clothing and home brand Lemlem. “I was traveling in Greece, so I invited Christina over for the day. We sat out under the Paxos sun and got to know each other. Later in the day, we got down to business and had so much fun as we discussed all the different directions this collaboration could go.”
The resulting capsule collection of sandals became available this week on Lemlem.com and through such retail partners as Net-a-porter.com and Revolve.com. Prices range from $275 for crisscross slides to $460 for intricate roped and tasseled styles. Nonleather materials and notions are sourced from Kebede’s network of artisans in her native Ethiopia, as well as from Kenya, Rwanda and Madagascar, while footwear is produced on the Greek island of Corfu using traditional techniques.
Footwear News spoke with Kebede about her creative process, plus her dedication to economic development and women’s employment opportunities in Africa.
Footwear News: Were you familiar with the brand before meeting Christina?
Liya Kebede: Yes! We have been styling Lemlem with AGS shoes for years. The classic yet sophisticated silhouettes are timeless. I’ve been a fan for a while now.
FN: What’s the story behind the materials, ruffling and tassel detailing in the designs?
LK: We used the Lemlem handwoven fabrics from Ethiopia. We also incorporated hand-thread-wrapped ropes made by Maasai women in Kenya. This was probably the riskiest group but actually ended up being my personal favorite. Lastly, we created a suede ruffle group. We often incorporate ruffles into the Lemlem collection, and I love suede, and this group came out really strong, too.
FN: These sandals are holiday-ready. What are your summer vacation plans? And what will you be packing?
LK: As of now, summer plans are still in the works, but I always try to take a few weeks away with the family to relax and regroup. On vacation, I’ll be packing my favorite Estia Wrap AGS X Lemlem Sandals, and of course a caftan or scarf for the plane.”
FN: Do you have a favorite style?
LK: My personal favorites from the collaboration are the tasseled styles and the ruffly group. I can see myself pairing either one of them with the Lemlem Edna caftans, because they are easy to transition from the day to night, with a simple leather belt or cute accessories.
FN: What did you learn about shoemaking throughout this process?
LK: It was really eye-opening. The similarity in working with clothes and shoes is that you are still working with a fabric or textile to create a wearable and durable product for everyday use — however, the process of manipulation is completely different, and there is a real attention to detail in every step. It was incredibly fun [working] with Christina.
FN: Will you incorporate more shoes for Lemlem down the line? What are your goals for the brand?
LK: Absolutely. With this collection, we designed the sandal collection so it all works back to the Lemlem high summer 2017 collection. This is my favorite collection to date, and with the addition of the sandals, we are really able to create a head-to-toe vision of what Lemlem is about. We hope to be able to incorporate footwear and other accessories in future collections.
FN: Lastly, a rather big question: There are a number of regions in Africa that are becoming footwear manufacturing hubs, particularly Ethiopia. How have you noticed that the industry has grown and changed since you launched Lemlem? And also, how has the market awareness toward “Made in Africa” evolved? What more needs to be done?
LK: Founding Lemlem was about creating a solution to a growing problem in Ethiopia. The industry has definitely grown there since our launch and those of other brands. I see it happening in Ethiopia and Kenya with my own eyes. I think this is because consumers have grown to become much more conscious of where their products come from, and there is a growing respect for locally sourced and handmade. I think the important thing now is to raise even more awareness and to really stand behind your local weavers, manufacturers and artisans — to support their growth through using the products that they are providing.