Between walking the runway and promoting her latest gig as the new host of Project Runway, Karlie Kloss is the ultimate role model for young girls looking to pursue careers in STEM. Back in 2014, Kloss became interested in the ways that technology influenced the fashion industry. From there, she took her first coding class and the rest is history. A year later, she launched Kode With Klossy, a nonprofit organization which hosts free, two-week summer coding camps for girls ages 13 to 18 years old.
This month, to coincide for Women’s History Month, the Ad Council’s She Can STEM campaign joined forces with Kode With Klossy to show girls how exercising their minds – using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – is the first step to changing the world. In the video, (launched on Pi Day, no less!), Kloss is joined by a team of bold, confident young girls who exercise their STEM skills and work together on a coding project.
I had a chance to connect with Karlie to learn more about what STEM and social good mean to her, and how she continues to inspire young girls.
Lina Renzina: How did you first discover STEM & coding?
Karlie Kloss: I’ve always had a passion for math and science, and growing up, I actually wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a doctor. Watching him help people was always inspiring to me, and it was through his career that I learned the many ways science and technology can create positive impact. Although my career took a different path through modeling, that interest in STEAM (science, technology, art and math) has always stayed with me, and eventually led me to take my first coding class.
LR: What drew you to learn coding?
KK: As a model, I began noticing the ways technology was transforming the fashion industry — from the rise of social media to e-commerce and wearable tech. I wanted to understand what was behind these innovations. So out of sheer curiosity, I took my first coding class in 2014 and was instantly hooked. I quickly realized how accessible and creative code is, as well as how many areas and industries this skill can be applied to.
LR: What inspired you to start Kode With Klossy?
KK: After taking that first coding class, I wanted to find ways to share that experience with others, which was the spark for Kode With Klossy. Coding and STEAM education is not as readily available for young women as it should be, and I wanted to use my platform to make some sort of change. That first year we underwrote 21 scholarships for young women to take the same class that I did, and now, four years later, we’ve taught code to over 2,000 young women through our summer camps.
LR: When did being a woman in your field make you feel empowered?
KK: Throughout my life and my career, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from and being mentored by incredible women. Strong women including my mom, sisters, aunts and mentor Christy Turlington, have all taught me that feeling powerful and confident starts from within. They also taught me to listen to my own voice and to not let others define who I am and what I want out of life. I try to keep this all in mind with every project or opportunity I pursue!
LR What have been some of your favorite experiences to come out of Kode With Klossy?
KK: Each year, I love getting to meet all of our Kode With Klossy scholars and witness their journey through code. It’s amazing to get to know them, hear their stories, and see the innovative ideas and projects they develop during the two-week program. I also love seeing our Kode With Klossy scholars take what they’ve learned at camp and apply it to real-world projects they’re passionate about. For example, our scholars have gone on to start their own coding clubs, built applications designed to help the chronically ill, created a VR simulation of the solar system, and attended top colleges to study computer science. What makes these success stories even more special is that many of our scholars have accomplished these projects together and have supported one another through group chats and meet-ups. I feel like a proud big sister to all of our scholars and feel so honored to be part of this community of talented young women.
LR: What advice do you have to someone hoping to follow a similar path of dual interests, or someone who is potentially interested in pursuing a path that is completely new or unfamiliar?
KK: If you’re passionate about something, go after it. Every day, women are proving that you don’t have to be just one thing or follow one path. You can forge a path that’s completely unique to you based on the things you love — whether that’s fashion, technology, sports or cooking.
Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! View them as opportunities to learn and grow. I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes along the way, and I’ve always come out stronger on the other end.
LR: Why do you think it’s important for someone with a platform to incorporate social good work into their career?
KK: It’s important to me to find meaningful ways to give back, and to use my platform to help and inspire others, particularly young women. Especially through Kode With Klossy, there is nothing more rewarding than working on something that combines my own interests and passions while also helping others.
LR: Are there any other social good causes that you’re passionate about?
KK: Right now, my current focus is continuing to grow and expand my Kode With Klossy program and create additional STEAM opportunities for young women everywhere. We have an exciting summer ahead, so there’s a lot to look forward to!
Beyond that — with the 2020 election approaching, I’m looking forward to getting involved and canvassing for new candidates. 2020 is also the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, so as a woman it feels like an incredibly important time to use my voice and take an active role in our democracy.
LR: What would you tell a middle school girl who isn’t sure if she wants to continue to pursue STEM in school?
KK: Learning to code can definitely feel intimidating, but it’s actually a really creative and collaborative language that has so many real-world applications. You can apply tech skills to any project or subject that interests you, whether that’s fashion, baking, art or community activism.
As technology will continue to change our world, studying code can give you the tools to have a voice in shaping our future.
LR: What do you think the future of social good looks like for the entertainment and fashion world?
KK: Through the rise of technology and social media, more people are bringing awareness to issues and social good causes. These innovations are also bringing more perspectives, ideas and voices to the table, which can only help our society become more inclusive and connected.
LR: Who are your STEM role models?
KK: Melinda Gates has always been a role model of mine, especially for her work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She uses her platform to empower women, creating more pathways for education and career opportunities in STEAM and technology.