At 25 years old, Karlie Kloss — the current face of brands including Adidas, Express, L’Oréal Paris and Swarovski — is a veteran model, make that supermodel. Since being discovered twelve years ago at a charity fashion show in her hometown of St. Louis, she has walked every major runway, from Marc Jacobs to Victoria’s Secret, and has been featured on the covers of 38 issues of Vogue.
Following the lead of entrepreneurial models that have come before her — including her close friend, Christy Turlington, who launched a non-profit in 2010 — Kloss has built on her success in the industry by tackling a variety of outside business ventures: In 2012, after becoming known for regularly gifting homemade cookies to stylists and editors including Anna Wintour, she started charitable cookie line Klossies with Manhattan-based Momofuku Milk Bar. Since, she debuted YouTube channel Klossy, providing an up-close look at her day-to-day to nearly 700,000 subscribers, and in December, she premiered a talk show with Freeform, “Movie Night With Karlie Kloss,” hosting guests including Gigi Hadid and Ruby Rose.
Her biggest solo project to date is Kode With Klossy, a nonprofit summer coding camp for teenage girls she founded in 2015, upon realizing the lack of women working in tech. On Friday, the program started accepting applications for its 2018 program, made up of 50 camps across 25 cities, four times the size of its last session. It also announced that, in collaboration with Teach for America, it will introduce a teacher training program to ensure computer science education is being taught year-round.
Between TV appearances promoting the program, Kloss spoke with Glossy about how the modeling industry has evolved in the last decade and how she’s tapped into the power of her platform.
As you see it, how has social media changed the modeling industry?
Social media has democratized fashion in a lot of ways. When I started modeling, fashion week was a very exclusive experience: Cameras were not allowed backstage at shows, and the consumer wouldn’t see the collections until the next season when they were available for purchase. Now models sharing on their social media backstage is an integral part of fashion week and spotlighting the work of the designers.
Social media has also provided a platform for diverse and empowered voices in the industry. Models are using Instagram and other platforms to transform our standards of what beauty is, advocate for diversity and celebrate women of all backgrounds. It’s been really interesting to see social media’s impact over the last several years.
How crucial is showing off your personality and having a voice? Do models have to be an influencers?
Brands today are interested in working with models who bring their perspective and other passions to the table. For me, launching Kode With Klossy has allowed me to draw valuable connections between my work in fashion and as the founder of a coding organization. It’s important to me that I use my platform and my voice to help break the stigma that you have to be a math or engineering wiz to be interested in technology and code.
I’ve read you work Kode With Klossy into your modeling contracts — how does that work?
I feel really lucky that there’s so much crossover between my fashion career and Kode With Klossy, and that’s largely due to amazing and generous partners, including Swarovski, Express, Adidas, Away and so many others. This year, Adidas is not only providing financial support for our expansion, but it is helping us integrate sports and wellness into the actual camps, which is really exciting. It means so much to me that my brand partners understand the importance of this issue and are invested in the success of the next generation of entrepreneurs and tech leaders.
Have other models that have launched businesses served as inspirations?
There are so many amazing people I’ve met through my fashion career, and Christy Turlington has always been a huge role model. She’s a fashion icon and entrepreneur in her own right, and she was the one who inspired me to apply to and attend NYU while also continuing my modeling career. Christy’s work through her organization, Every Mother Counts, has also been a huge influence on my work through Kode With Klossy; she helped inspire me to use my platform to make a difference in an area I care about.
So, how do you find the time?
The program is definitely one of my biggest projects, but it’s also the one that makes me proudest. After I took my first coding class and realized how powerful of a skill it is, I wanted to share that learning with others. It began with providing scholarships to 21 young girls, and we’ve been able to grow and scale our impact. Kode With Klossy is a huge priority for me, largely because of the group of amazing, brilliant young women that have come out of our program. They have gone on to win hackathons, start coding clubs in their communities and get into top colleges to study computer science. They motivate me every day, and are the reason we continue to grow and evolve.
What would you say is behind the program’s speedy growth?
Unfortunately, access to computer science education is still lacking across the country, and to close the gender gap in technology, we need to start with education. Our goal is to promote early access and inspire women to want to learn these skills. It’s been excited to see our growth and impact over past four years, but there’s still so much to be done.