What the modeling agents didn’t know when they crowned a teenage Karlie Kloss fashion royalty was that the then-15-year-old had a deep love for science — and planned to use it for good. A decade later, that’s exactly what the 6-foot-1 powerhouse has done, parlaying one of the most successful modeling careers in history into a full-fledged movement to reshape the future of tech.
Kloss’s entrepreneurial feat began in 2014 with a simple coding class, one that inspired her to form a foundation aimed at empowering young girls join tech: Kode With Klossy. What began as a foundation to host free summer coding camps for a few dozen girls has since grown into a 50-camp operation, giving more than 1,000 girls two free weeks of coding class in 25 cities nationwide.
More than a passion, Kloss’s goal of empowering girls to join STEAM seems to border on a calling. This week, that mission is manifesting the Trailblazers of STEAM series, four videos that give young girls an inside look at women dominating their careers in tech. From culinary innovation to intergalactic travel, the scenes present a powerful portrait of the infinite possibilities for girls who code — Kloss included.
Yahoo Lifestyle: People see you now as a successful model and entrepreneur, but not long ago you were a little girl who loved math and science. Was there one teacher in particular who inspired that?
Karlie Kloss: You know, it’s funny — I had many great teachers that really helped me continue to be curious and very much stimulated. But really, it was my dad. He was an ER doctor, and he was — and is — a very influential part of my life. He helped shape the way that I understood the world and space. Even from a very young age, we would have conversations around space exploration, our solar system, and our universe. So I always had this perspective, from a very early age, of how vast our universe is and how little we really know. So I’ve always kind of had this excitement and passion to understand more about space. And I’ve always had tremendous respect for people in these fields, because they’re at the forefront of this journey.
RELATED: See the model over the years
Karlie Kloss through the years
Karlie Kloss through the years
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Model Karlie Kloss wearing a black coat, black turtleneck, black jogger pants outside Calvin Klein on February 10, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 01: Karlie Kloss arrives ahead of the David Jones Autumn Winter 2017 Collections Launch at St Mary's Cathedral Precinct on February 1, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 19: Karlie Kloss is seen in Chelsea on January 19, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 18: Model Karlie Kloss is seen walking in Soho on January 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
DECEMBER 11, 2016: SYDNEY, NSW - (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Model Karlie Kloss poses during a photo shoot in Sydney, New South Wales. (Photo by John Appleyard/Newspix/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 19: Karlie Kloss seen at a film set in Manhattan on December 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Kamau/GC Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: Model Karlie Kloss poses in the winners room at The Fashion Awards 2016 at Royal Albert Hall on December 5, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: Karlie Kloss attends The Fashion Awards 2016 on December 5, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Karlie Kloss arrives at the 2016 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Karlie Kloss is seen on November 29, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ignat/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
Model Karlie Kloss attends a Carolina Herrera party at the US embassy in Madrid, Spain, on November 14, 2016. (Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 07: Karlie Kloss at the 2016 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards at Spring Studios on November 7, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
CAP D'ANTIBES, FRANCE - MAY 19: Karlie Kloss attends amfAR's 23rd Cinema Against AIDS Gala at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on May 19, 2016 in Cap d'Antibes, France. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/amfAR16/Dave Benett/WireImage)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 18: Karlie Kloss attends the L'Oreal Paris Blue Obsession Party during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2016 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Jacopo Raule/FilmMagic)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 18: Karlie Kloss is seen at Hotel Martinez during the annual 69th Cannes Film Festival at on May 18, 2016 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Jacopo Raule/GC Images)
CANNES , FRANCE - MAY 13: Karlie Kloss attends the opening ceremony and premiere of 'La Tete Haute ('Standing Tall') during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2015 in Cannes , France. (Photo Luca Teuchmann/WireImage )
NICE, FRANCE - MAY 12: Karlie Kloss arrives at Nice Airport ahead of The 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2015 in Nice, France. (Photo by Alex B. Huckle/GC Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Victoria's Secret model Karlie Kloss seen backstage prior the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on December 2, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01: Karlie Kloss attends the British Fashion Awards at London Coliseum on December 1, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05: Model Karlie Kloss attends WSJ. Magazine 2014 Innovator Awards at Museum of Modern Art on November 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Karlie Kloss attends The 11th Annual CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards at Spring Studios on November 3, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Model Karlie Kloss arrives at the Oscar de la Renta fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2014 on February 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Model Karlie Kloss attends the 2014 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on February 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 04: Model Karlie Kloss attends Victoria's Secret Angels Celebrate Bombshells' Day at Herald Square on February 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Model Karlie Kloss attends the 2013 God's Love We Deliver 2013 Golden Heart Awards Celebration at Spring Studios on October 16, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 26: Karlie Kloss seen on the streets of Paris on September 25, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Timur Emek/FilmMagic)
PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 26: Karlie Kloss A model prepares backstage prior to the Balmain show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2014 on September 26, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Model Karlie Kloss attends the #DKNY25 Birthday Bash on September 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for DKNY)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Karlie Kloss attends the Daily Front Row's Fashion Media Awards at Harlow on September 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Karlie Kloss seen in downtown Manhattan on September 08, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by David Krieger/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Karlie Kloss attends the Daily Front Row's Fashion Media Awards at Harlow on September 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Norfleet/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Model Karlie Kloss walks the runway at the Diane Von Furstenberg fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014 at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on September 8, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 03: Karlie Kloss attends 2013 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall on June 3, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30: Model Karlie Kloss attends the New York Mets vs New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium on May 30, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 24: Karlie Kloss attends the premiere of 'The Immigrant' at The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 24, 2013 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Tony Barson/FilmMagic)
Karlie Kloss attends the Costume Institute Gala for the 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. ?? LAN (Photo by Lars Niki/Corbis via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 07: Model/ballet dancer Karlie Kloss attends the Jay Z performance at Carnegie Hall to benefit The United Way of New York and The Shawn Carter Foundation on February 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 10: Model Karlie Kloss attends the 2012 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on January 10, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: Karlie Kloss arrives at The 20th Anniversary of Next Models Hosted By Artistry at Marquee on February 13, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage for Next Management, LLC)
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Very true. But it’s not every day that a supermodel at the top of her career makes a jump into the tech world. You took your first coding class in 2014, and now you’re essentially cracking the code. How?
[Laughter] Well, I’m so passionate about learning, so I think for me, I had an awakening when I first started taking coding classes. I realized how important these skills are and how creative these industries can be — and how fun it can be. I wanted to share access to that, because not a lot of girls have it. That’s why I started Kode With Klossy, because I wanted to connect young women who are going to be the future of these industries with the tools that can equip them to get there. It’s about these women and supporting them, and the series we’re doing is the next step of that.
So tell me about this series — what did you hope to show girls through these videos?
The goal was to continue to open their eyes to all the opportunities that exist within STEAM — and to really show all these different industries. There are so many women using technology to do extraordinary things — from sports to engineering — and we don’t know their names. We don’t see them in the media every day, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. What I wanted to do with this series was really shed some light on those incredible women.
I liked the different areas of focus you chose — gaming, mobility, space, and food — but the last one was my favorite. The Beyond Meat burger looks so delicious, I’m eager to try it.
You can get it at Whole Foods. It’s really good. I made my entire family try them this weekend. I definitely recommend it.
The videos really pack in a lot about these women’s careers. What were you hoping to learn from them?
The videos are just short clips of our conversations, but I really had the chance to sit with these women who extended periods of time and learn about what drives them, where they started, who were the influential people in their life that got them where they are today. Even today there is not equal representation of women in STEAM fields, but these women are there and they are the trailblazers and the “hidden figures” of today and their stories can and should inspire the next generation so that there is equal representation.
Out of everything you learned, what was your favorite takeaway?
So many things. One was the fact that even these women who are incredibly accomplished and very bright, they have doubted themselves at some point. They doubted their own abilities. It humanized it for me to see these incredibly accomplished women have self-doubts and insecurities. So for other young women: Don’t let that stop you. That’s only the voice in your head, and you can’t let that get in the way of what you know you’re capable of.
That is a pretty profound message to send to young girls — that just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it is. You seem like someone who genuinely wants to bring out the best in people. Why?
That’s very kind. I definitely lead from my heart, and I feel very, very aware of all the people who have really helped me follow my dreams. My family is a big part of that. There has been a lot of luck involved too, and I’m overflowing with gratitude and appreciation. So I wanted to take the opportunities I’ve had in my life and share them. I feel like there’s a bigger purpose, to use that to help others and to open doors for other young women. Using my skills to help young women in their own careers and lives — and even just on a confidence level — that’s really fulfilling.
I like that you end your interviews asking your subjects what advice they would give creative young women interested in coding. But I wanted to turn the question back on you: As someone who has been in the trenches, so to speak, for four years — what advice would you give these girls?
You know, that’s a great question. I can ask it of everybody else, but it’s tough to answer myself. I really think I’ve been able to be front row in seeing all the creative applications of these skills and see the roles and understand what is possible with code. And that’s what I wish for young women, to realize how powerful this learning can be — even just to open your eyes to how the world works and how technology continues to shape the world we live in, and I think it’s really empowering to understand that and to be a part of that.