Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Liya moved to Paris at the age of 18. Her modeling career took off as a year later she debuted at the spring Ralph Lauren and BCBG Max Azria shows, and was also personally selected by Tom Ford for an exclusive contract for the Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 fashion show. She gained still more attention as the entire May 2002 edition of Paris Vogue was dedicated to her. Kebede has been seen on the covers of Italian, Japanese, American, French and Spanish Vogue, V, Flair, i-D and Time's Style & Design, and has been featured in ad campaigns including those for Gap, Yves Saint-Laurent, Victoria's Secret, Emanuel Ungaro, Tommy Hilfiger, Revlon, Dolce & Gabbana, Escada and Louis Vuitton. In 2003, she made history becoming the first ever black model to represent cosmetic company Estee Lauder. She is also an activist, serving as the Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health for the World Health Organization. She has two children with husband Kassy Kebede.