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Liya Kebede Debuts Lemlem’s First Made-in-Africa Swimsuits

Liya Kebede Debuts Lemlem’s First Made-in-Africa Swimsuits

Liya Kebede’s 12-year-old label Lemlem has become a go-to destination for caftans, swim cover-ups, linen dresses, and other breezy, resort-y pieces you’d stuff in a suitcase for a last-minute trip to Kauai, say. In fact, it’s easy to imagine packing nothing else: The line’s beautiful colors, handcrafted details, and easy silhouettes have just the right casual-yet-special balance to go from a beach walk to a sunset dinner. Of course, there would be one major thing missing in your carry-on: a swimsuit! Kebede is taking care of that this week with her very first swim collection, available on Lemlem’s website now.

“It’s a very natural progression for the brand,” she explains. “But it took some time to figure out what a swimsuit would look like in the world of Lemlem. For us, fabric is everything—we’re a handmade textile brand, but I wanted to use proper swim fabrics, not cotton [or crochet]. The challenge was how to incorporate [our aesthetic] for swimwear, and Lemlem-ify it, if you will.” She landed on the idea of transposing the label’s Ethiopian tubuh embroideries as prints, which appear on trims, belts, and straps throughout the collection. “It came out so wonderfully, we decided to do allover prints too,” she added, referring to the coral-dotted bikinis and striped halter maillots.

As for Lemlem’s ambitious sustainability goals, Kebede pointed out that the dyes for the aforementioned prints are certified free of harmful chemicals. A typical bikini, on the other hand—particularly one in a super-bright or saturated color—is dyed with a cocktail of toxic substances, which could end up back in the waterways through your laundry machine (or, you know, swimming in the ocean). Next season, Kebede revealed her team is experimenting with fabrics by Repreve that are made from recycled plastic, and she’s overhauling Lemlem’s packaging and labels by swapping out plastic for compostable bags and introducing recycled paper labels.

If you look closer, you’ll notice the new suits still have a touch of Lemlem’s signature texture: Instead of the usual slick, flat-looking swim fabric, Kebede sourced a French jacquard with a more tactile hand. She stressed the importance of maintaining Lemlem’s made-in-Africa ethos too, so that jacquard is shipped from France to Morocco, where each suit is stitched together in a woman-owned factory. “That makes it even more exciting,” she says. “The whole thing came together so nicely.”

The collection is available now at Lemlem, with prices staring at $230, as well as at Net-a-Porter, Shopbop, Neiman Marcus, and specialty boutiques worldwide.