Two years ago, Karlie Kloss, who is perhaps one of the most well-known models walking the runways today, decided to take a coding class.
She took time out of her punishing travel schedule—”I might be in Madrid on Monday, Paris on Tuesday, London on Friday, then back home over the weekend,” she told Imran Amed, Business of Fashion‘s editor-in-chief at the Fast Company Innovation Festival—and signed up at the Flatiron School with professor Avi Flombaum. She explains that she was simply curious about what went into the technology all around her. “What was this secret language: code?” she wanted to know. “The apps, the software that I touch, the hardware, I wanted to know how it works and why. I think that skill set is unbelievably powerful, especially paired with creative problem-solving.”
The course demonstrated to her that code is not impenetrable, or only accessible to a brilliant few, but is something anybody could learn. And moreover, it wasn’t just useful for building technology, it was a bootcamp for problem-solving of all kinds. She decided to make coding classes more accessible to other young women by building an nonprofit organization called Kode with Klossy that equips young women with the skills they will need to pursue a career in the tech sector.
On her YouTube and Instagram channels, she issued a call to action asking young women between the ages of 13 to 18 to send her a video and a short essay about why they want to learn how to code, and winning entries would get scholarships for coding camps and classes. Within days, she had received thousands of entries, and this became the basis for Kode with Klossy.
More broadly, Kloss is interested in helping to narrow the gender gap in the tech industry. And she believes this goes beyond simply offering coding lessons, but also getting young women excited about the idea of creating new technology. At one point in her on-stage conversation, she pointed out that girls have fewer role models than men, since women are so sparse in the upper echelons of the tech industry. It’s hard to imagine yourself in a profession unless you see other women you can relate to or admire. The solution: “(We need to) make it more known that it is not just for guys in hoodies,” she says. “No offense to the guys in hoodies, but anybody can learn this.”
As a woman who spends her days in couture gowns and the latest collections from the world’s top designers, Kloss is particularly well equipped to make the case that it is cool to want to code. She’s trying to model the notion that a love for technology can coexist with other things that women love, including fashion and beauty. “Girls think differently from guys,” she says.
In fact, Kloss says that she sees her modeling career not as an end in itself, but as a way to build an audience so that she can continue communicating this message. “That’s what drives me to do things,” Kloss says. “What keeps me excited to keep growing my fashion career is to have a bigger, more powerful platform, to make a meaningful impact through the things that I really enjoy doing. It’s been a perfect storm of using my day job to fuel these passions.”
Beyond the hundreds of young women who have come through her Kode with Klossy program, she’s seen thousands of young women catch the coding bug by seeing her talk so proudly about coding on her social media feeds. Her next recruit: her friend, Taylor Swift. “Maybe I’ll teach her how to code,” she says.
01 / [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company];