Josiane Laure Modjom’s choice to become a model—and start her own fashion networking platform—was borne out of her own struggles with body image.

“Growing up, watching TV, I didn’t see little girls who looked like me or like anyone I could relate to,” she says. “I was the curviest girl in my classes at school, which made it difficult to navigate self-esteem. I didn’t like the way I looked; I didn’t accept my body.” 

She began having internal conversations and working on herself, which led to a slight boost. “I began presenting myself with this newfound confidence, and it actually led to more and more compliments from others around me.” It was then the realizations started…maybe she was beautiful.

“Unfortunately, many women are unaware of their own beauty, and they don’t accept their bodies from a young age. This got me thinking about how fashion and beauty can impact one’s mental health.” So, in addition to her full-time job in accounting, the mother of two started modelling so she could communicate her confidence. “For me, modelling was a way to share my story while continuing to face my struggles head-on.”

She quickly experienced the issues existing in the industry for people whose bodies don’t fit the idealized size 0: a lack of resources, opportunities and, most obviously, representation. “There were not many jobs available to me—virtually no casting or commercial opportunities,” she remembers. “Still, I was confident that being a model was my destiny, regardless of the adversity I had to face. I persisted by keeping my focus.”

She founded the Malia Indigo Corporation as a response to those who didn’t understand what she was experiencing or where she fit in. The organization has created an international directory for professionals in the plus-size fashion industry, in addition to producing three international fashion shows in Toronto and Paris, creating visibility for under-represented models, designers, make-up artists, influencers, photographers and other industry professionals. Now, she’s just released Malia Indigo, a new networking platform that connects fashion professionals while empowering all embodiment, backgrounds and identities. 

“There’s a responsibility for fashion and beauty brands to represent the real world, and to start conveying the new norm, which is that there is no norm!” Modjom wants to see all bodies, faces, hair, identities and abilities represented in the future. “My ideal fashion industry is one where everyone feels seen, heard and valued as who they are.”

While there have been slight improvements in the areas of inclusivity and diversity, we still have a long way to go. “Some people seem to implement inclusivity as a marketing tactic only,” she says. For her, it feels politically-driven. “Some brands are just jumping on the bandwagon—their interest in diversity and representation is simply revenue-related, rather than making positive social impacts,” she says. “Representation isn’t a trend; it should be the new norm. I can’t wait for the day when people don’t have to wonder or worry if a certain brand caters to their size. Everyone should be able to enjoy fashion and feel like any look is for them. Inclusivity shouldn’t be an option.”

She loves sharing positive experiences with people who, for a long time, have been left out and under-celebrated. “During a previous Toronto Plus Size Fashion Show, a model came up to me crying,” she says. “She told me being part of the show was a healing process for her. This really resonated with me. I knew exactly what she meant because of my own past of self-doubt and eventual healing journey.”

While Modjom rolls out her new platform, she reminds herself to stay focused and not spread herself too thin. “Although I have a lot more going on now with Malia Indigo Corporation in full-force—and still working full-time as a controller accountant—I feel far less pressure than before,” she explains. “I no longer worry about trying to please others by taking on extraneous tasks. I’m better at being easier on myself.” She also credits her supportive family and her own self-motivation with helping her stay the course. “As an entrepreneur, challenges come from everywhere,” she says. “But if you believe in what you’re doing and work hard at your vision, you will get to where you want to be.”