'We don't know their names': Karlie Kloss's mission to showcase the 'Hidden Figures' of today

Karlie Kloss, right, with Justine Ezarik of the YouTube channel iJustine, which focuses on gaming reviews. Kloss interviewed Ezarik for her Trailblazers of STEAM video series. (Photo: Annalora Von Pentz)
Karlie Kloss, right, with Justine Ezarik of the YouTube channel iJustine, which focuses on gaming reviews. Kloss interviewed Ezarik for her Trailblazers of STEAM video series. (Photo: Annalora Von Pentz)

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 (made in partnership with the Ford STEAM Experience) 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.

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.

Photo: Annalora Von Pentz
Photo: Annalora Von Pentz

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 for 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.

Photo: Annalora Von Pentz
Photo: Annalora Von Pentz

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.

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