OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Model Karlie Kloss has travelled the world many times over in her decade-long career as a top model walking the runways for the likes of Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera and fronting campaigns for Swarovski and Adidas. In that journey, she has met not only leaders from inside the fashion industry but also tech entrepreneurs such as Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia and Instagram founder Kevin Systrom. “I wanted to understand what they knew that I didn’t and what most of the world doesn’t,” she told Business of Fashion founder and chief executive Imran Amed at VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.
When Kloss took her first coding class three years ago, she discovered the power of the programming language. “If you can understand how things work and how they are built, you can build anything yourself,” she said.
Women, however, are historically underrepresented in tech, especially in engineering roles. With this imbalance in mind, Kloss founded the non-profit programme Kode With Klossy in 2015, which hosts summer coding camps for young women aged 15 to 18 — a group she describes as the “future workforce.”
We create the space and give the access to the learning for the girls. Knowledge is power and I think this is a really empowering thing for these young women.
“We create the space and give the access to the learning for the girls, but knowledge is power and I think this is a really empowering thing for these young women,” said Kloss, describing how formative the teenage years are for young women, who often self-select out of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics during those years. “We are trying to keep that window open,” she said. Her other goal is to show young women that coding can have “so many creative applications,” she said, using fashion as an example. “There are so many ways that technology can create more efficiency in our industry.”
Kode with Klossy has grown in more ways than Kloss says she ever anticipated. “It’s amazing to see the impact that we’ve been able to have on the girls who have been in our camps and in our communities,” said Kloss. “They change the way that they think about themselves and [what they think] they are capable of…. That confidence factor is key.”
It’s not just about empowerment for Kloss, however. She says companies that make an effort to hire more female engineers will benefit. “Our brains are just wired differently, we problem solve differently,” she said. “And ultimately, that’s what code is: it’s creative problem-solving. Having more women and girls in the conversation, at the table when you are building algorithms, when you are problem-solving — we are going to come up with a different way to get to the answer.”