Herieth Paul wasn't thinking about modelling when she first responded to an open call in Ottawa at the young age of 14.
"I wanted to be an actress, because I watched a lot of Disney when I was young, and I said 'I can do that, I can make people laugh.' she said of her start about nine years ago when she had responded to an open call for Angie's Models and Talent Agency in the Byward Market.
"And then I went to Angie's and she said 'Wow, you would make a great model' and I was too shy to say anything."
Paul was born in Tanzania and came with her family to the Ottawa community of Orléans, just weeks before her 11th birthday.
"I didn't speak a word of English. I was very awkward, skinny and tall," she said.
Paul signs Maybelline deal
But it didn't take long for Herieth to fit in and thrive. Now a 20-year-old woman, Paul on Thursday signed to be one of the faces of cosmetics giant Maybelline, joining the ranks of modeling legends Christy Turlington and Adrianna Lima.
"It's such a big deal, I've always wanted to be part Maybelline, they have such strong women," she said.
Now Paul, speaking from a taxi in New York City in the midst of Fashion Week, as she rushed from one shoot to the next, says she's hoping now she can change the face of her industry.
She says though the fashion industry is evolving with more Asian, black and Hispanic models making their way to the glossy pages of magazines, there is still far to go.
'There's a lot of work that needs to be done'
"There is a lot of work that needs to be done, because out of 100 per cent of models, there are only two per cent black, and three per cent Asians, so we need to change the numbers," she says.
Herieth says she's heartened by the response of those who see her as a role model, a face of a different colour in a sea of Caucasian models.
"I actually got a lot of emails and messages saying 'you're such an inspiration, you're a black girl, you have short hair, that's not the ideal that society thinks is beautiful, you have to have blond hair and blue eyes," she said.
She credits her work ethic with getting her to the top of her profession.
'Can't or impossible' not in her vocabulary
"You can't have the words 'I can't' or 'it's impossible'. You have to be positive and you have to work very hard." she said.
"There have been times when it's two o'clock in the morning and you have to get up for a fitting or a show. You can't say 'No, I have I have to sleep', they can replace you with another girl just like that. If they want you at two in the morning, you have to be there at two in the morning," she said.
"I always knew I could do it, I just had to put in all of the work, and finally all the work is paying off."