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Step into a supermodel's shoes with Liya Kebede

updated 8:17 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
  • Liya Kebede is an Ethiopian supermodel scouted in Addis Ababa while at school
  • Her big break came when she was selected by Tom Ford to walk his A/W Gucci line in 2000
  • In 2007 she launched her own fashion label which provides business growth in Ethiopia
  • "When I went back to Ethiopia, I wanted to do something. I wanted to give back"

African Voices is a weekly show that highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. Follow the team on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Fashion season is once again upon us. Celebrities, trendsetters and buyers across the world will adorn the front rows of countless runways as the sartorially elite reveal their style edicts for the season ahead.

Last week, CNN's African Voices teamed up with one of fashion's finest -- Ethiopian supermodel, designer and maternal health advocate Liya Kebede to offer an exclusive insight into her multi-faceted world. Kebede posted a daily diary of her life using Instagram to show us mere mortals the events and meetings she attended, all the while reflecting on how her roots have shaped the woman she is today.

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Who is Liya Kebede?

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1978, Kebede had been attending the French Lycee when she was scouted by a French film director and so began her rise to the top. Upon finishing her education, she joined a Parisian modeling agency before moving to Chicago and then New York. When she hit the Big Apple, there was no turning back.

In the fall of 2000, the multi-talented designer and future director Tom Ford handpicked Kebede to walk the catwalk for his autumn/winter Gucci collection. It was the big break Kebede had been waiting for. A year later, she would sit for prolific photographer Patrick Demarchelier for Harper's Bazaar, feature as cover girl on numerous fashionista bibles including Vogue and tread the runways for Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, Burberry and Fendi, to name a few.

Despite the supermodel success, Kebede has never forgotten where she came from. When an opportunity arose to launch her own fashion line, Lemlem -- meaning "to flourish or bloom" in Amharic -- in 2007, Kebede drew inspiration from her native land. She embraced the traditional hand-woven style from back home, in the hope of offering employment and business opportunities for the country's long-established weavers, and incorporated it into her collections.

"The core of our collection is handwoven and made with handspun thread. We use a textured fabric this season in our scarves and tunics that is traditionally used for Ethiopian wedding dresses," she tells CNN. "Supporting Ethiopian weavers and their craft has remained our central mission and we're proud we can sell a beautiful product while also helping these artisans thrive."

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Returning to her roots

Kebede also works tirelessly to put a spotlight on the needs of millions of mothers and newborns in Ethiopia through her philanthropy, The Liya Kebede Foundation, launched in 2005 alongside her appointment as a World Health Organization goodwill ambassador, a position she held until 2011.

The foundation supports training, and education about safe birth delivery services with the aim to substantially reduce preventable deaths in communities like the ones she grew up near. As a mother of two, it's a cause close to her heart.

"I have always felt committed to women's causes and the maternal health issue in particular spoke to me after I had my two children. I was stunned when I first learned that a woman was dying every minute in my home country and other developing nations from complications of pregnancy and childbirth."

She adds: "Of all the Millennium Development Goals set to reduce global poverty, there has been the least progress toward reaching the goal for improved maternal health. It shows how far we have yet to go to make sure that the health system works in the best interest of women."

A supermodel, businesswoman, philanthropist, activist and mother -- that's a lot of hats and yet Kebede remains humble about it all.

"I think most women are very good at juggling things -- we learn it from our moms! When you love what you do a busy week isn't a chore -- it's more a question of how to prioritize to put your best effort into each area."

Explore the interactive timeline above for a glimpse into Kebede's world.

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