Liya Kebede, Alek Wek, Gelila Bekele, and Georgie Badiel
Liya Kebede, Alek Wek, Gelila Bekele, and Georgie Badiel. (Photos: Getty Images)

Fashion Week isn’t only about glitzy runway shows and star-studded front rows; nor is the industry solely about dreamy designer pieces most of us can’t afford and rich, skinny models. Some of those beautiful mannequins and marquee names are as much about substance as style.

As New York Fashion Week entered its fifth day on Monday, supermodel Liya Kebede explained to theGrio how she used her fame gained walking runways to raising awareness about maternal health. At an intimate gathering in the rooftop bar at Manhattan’s SoHo House, hosted by La Phête, a new online destination focused on spotlighting fashion’s philanthropic stars, Kebede shared her journey.

Though it may seem that successful models are better positioned through plentiful resources and social status to help, Kebede said figuring out where, who, and how best to give was just as overwhelming for her as anyone else.

“At first,” Kebede admitted, “it feels very daunting” to decide how and where best you can make a difference. “I really advise people to just jump in,” she says. “You will make a difference to somebody.”

And jump in she did. In 2005, the UN’s World Health Organization approached the model, appointing her Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Kebede spent the next five years advocating for the cause. Tragically, nearly 800 women die every day from pregnancy, childbirth, or related causes.

Bitten by the philanthropy bug through the experience, the model launched her lemlem clothing line in 2007, employing traditional weavers in her native Ethiopia to preserve the increasingly extinct sartorial art. Now, under the banner of her Liya Kebede Foundation, she engages in a range of charitable projects that help improve maternal healthcare in her native Ethiopia.

Kebede’s model citizenry is not an anomaly. Fellow catwalkers Alek Wek, Gelila Bekele, and Kinée Diouf — not to mention Naomi Campbell with her Fashion for Relief Charity and Tyra Banks’ TZONE Foundation — are just a few of the pretty faces leading charitable change in their communities and home countries. And they’re not just lending their names to projects or strutting the red carpet to help charities garner press — though that is an important role many models are filling. We found several models getting their manicures dirty for amazing causes.

Click the slide show above to learn more about some of these amazing models. They are using their clout to improve the lives of others.

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is a fashion blogger and the author of  ‘Powder Necklace.’ Follow Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond on Twitter at @nanaekua.