Toronto·Start-Up City

She's not only an accountant but a model, and she's shining a light on plus-size fashion

Josiane Laure Modjom spent years overcoming self-confidence issues relating to her figure. Now, she wants to help other women embrace their bodies.

Malia Indigo Corporation aims to bolster the plus-size fashion and beauty industry

Josiane Laure Modjom founded Malia Indigo Corporation in an effort to grow the plus-size fashion industry in Canada. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

Josiane Laure Modjom turned to modelling as a way to communicate.

An ​accountant by profession and mother of two, she had spent years overcoming self-confidence issues relating to her figure. Now, she wanted to help women embrace their bodies — and that meant putting herself out there.

Modjom is the founder of Malia Indigo Corporation, an international directory for professionals in the plus-sized fashion industry.

"I think we should show beauty in diversity," she said. "There are no standards. Everyone is beautiful the way they are."

Josiane Laure Modjom became a model to inspire people to love the skin they're in. Now, she's started an online platform to connect professionals in the plus-size industry. 2:49

'All I saw was petite women'

Growing up in Cameroon, Modjom says she felt different from the start.

"I grew up very intimidated because I thought that I was not pretty enough," she said. "I was always the bigger in the classroom, and on TV all I saw was petite women. I started to think there was something wrong with me."

That thought remained in her mind throughout her childhood. She says she was a timid girl who would always stand at the back of a crowd to avoid any kind of spotlight.

"I kept it inside me for many, many years," she said. "But I never shared this when I was growing up because it's not actually part of the culture."

Modjom grew up in Cameroon, where she said she felt different from the start because of her curves. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

Something shifted when she finished high school. She started to receive compliments from people for the first time, she said, which gave her pause.

"I was like, 'Hold on — maybe I'm not that bad. Maybe I should look at myself differently.'"

She made the decision to work on her self-confidence and shift her perceptions of beauty. It took five years, she said, but she finally began to accept and embrace her so-called imperfections.

That's when she decided to become a model.

'That's not me'

She started networking in the fashion industry after she moved to Canada. A photographer had seen some of her photos and asked if they could work together.

"I remember the first photo shoot we had, the test photo shoot, I was looking at myself on the picture and I was like, 'No, that's not me,' Modjom said, choking up. "He was like, 'Yeah, it's you.' It was a big shock ... because I could see that the way I used to picture myself was totally different."

'It's my time to shine,' Modjom told her family. (Submitted/Rebecca Northcott Photography)

Modjom's decision to become a model also came as a big shock to her family.

"They were like, 'You are a great accountant; you have a great career. Why did you join the fashion industry? What are you trying to achieve?'" she said.

"I told them, 'The perfect girl you used to know — she's not perfect anymore,'" she said. "I battled, I struggled, I fought, now I win. It's my time to shine," she said.

"It's my time to show you what I really am inside."

Questioning the industry

Modjom's experience in a modelling agency brought a whole new understanding of how things work in the industry — including the challenges facing plus-sized models.

"They don't actually accept you as a model or as part of the fashion industry because you don't meet the standard," she said.

"I started to meet some of the girls in town who were facing the same issue. I would see them on social media with great pictures, but nothing was moving. I really started to question the whole industry."

Modjom poses in SexyPlus Boutique, a plus-size clothing store in Mississauga. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

Modjom noticed plus-size models in the United States could make a living working in fashion, whereas here in Canada, that wasn't the case. That's when the idea for Malia Indigo Corporation was born. 

The divide didn't exist because of a lack of Canadian talent, she says. The problem was a lack of a exposure.

"My thinking was to help the industry to grow here in Canada and fill that gap," Modjom said. "If it's growing and booming somewhere else, we have everything here to also boom."

How it works

Modjom got to work writing a business plan and searching for developers to bring her platform to life. It took about a year to build the first iteration.

Malia Indigo is Modjom's model name, and she chose to stick with the moniker for her online platform, as well.

The platform showcases various professionals working in the plus-size fashion and beauty industry. (Submitted/Josiana Laure Modjom)

The idea was to create a community of professionals working in the plus-size fashion and beauty industry while increasing visibility. Users can sign up as a designer, model, blogger, photographer or make-up artist, and memberships include creating your own profile, access to networking events and fashion shows, as well as appearing in various media campaigns.

"We give you a space to show what your talent is," Modjom said. "We bring the eyes on you. You just have to filter, browse and find what you're looking for."

"The more we stay united and speak the same language, the more people will be looking at us."

The Toronto Plus-Size Fashion Show took place in Toronto last July. (Submitted/Josiane Laure Modjom)

Last July, Malia Indigo hosted the Toronto Plus-Size Fashion Show with 27 international models. This past February, Modjom traveled overseas to host the Paris Plus-Size Fashion Show.

Both were a big success, she said.

"My hope, in the next generation, is to get people — any kind of body type, doesn't matter which size — so people can actually see everything and relate."

Start-Up City is CBC Toronto's five-part digital video series that spotlights some of the GTA's most innovative start-ups.

About the Author

Julia Whalen

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Julia has been working in journalism since 2012 — first as a newspaper reporter in Moncton, before making the move to Toronto to work for CBC. She's particularly interested in social issues, health and the creative community, and is a proud Maritimer and dedicated fundraiser for type 1 diabetes research.