One of the most hopeful moments during Paris Fashion Week occurred at the Xuly.Bët show on March 2, when the Malian singer and model Inna Modja appeared on designer Lamine Badian Kouyaté’s runway carrying her three-month-old daughter Valentina tightly to her chest.

Modja is no stranger to the catwalk, although her path through the fashion world has been a winding one. Born in Mali, she started writing poetry at 14 and soon after combined her words with music. As a self-described advocate of Africa, Modja sings of the continent’s beauty and its problems, creating modern music that “expresses that [Africa] can also be avant-garde.”

The new mother doesn’t play it safe when it comes to her own personal style: She mixes unexpected elements and tries to stand out. “As an African woman, a feminist, and a musician, I like to take up space. I like to be unapologetic,” she said.

Her latest project is a sustainable fashion cooperative, which will soon open in Bamako, Mali. Called Jiriso (meaning “House of Plants”), its aim is to create artisanal products while providing education and employment to young people. Modja has also recently finished filming The Great Green Wall, a documentary (directed by Fernando Meirelles of City of God and The Constant Gardener fame), in which she travels across Africa, following a line of newly planted trees, meeting different communities and recording music along the way. It is yet another case of Modja creatively combining two things she’s passionate about—music and sustainability—for the greater good.

Here, Modja speaks to Vogue about becoming a mother, the roots of her activism, and her style.

How did you come to open Lamine’s Paris fashion show?
I know Lamine from Mali; he’s really a dear friend. It means the world to me that he is back. I’m not modeling anymore, but I said, “Lamine, it would be truly an honor to walk your show.” He was so happy and he said, “I’d gladly have you, and bring Valentina with you.” For him [this show] was like being reborn in Paris and he said Valentina is a baby and it means the same thing. Lamine’s clothes are so vibrant and so full of life. In French, [the word is] débrouille; it’s how you take things that don’t cost a lot and do something that really looks cool. And Lamine is the master of rethinking clothes, [using] vintage clothes…. In Mali, vintage is really part of the culture. That’s the thing that I love with Lamine, he was sustainable before sustainability was even a thing.

Inna Modja and ValentinaPhoto: Courtesy of Xuly.Bët

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