Growing up in the Midwest, my father, an ER doctor, instilled in me and my sisters a love of science, technology, and math — but more than that, he taught me to always be curious.
My modeling career started when I was only 15, but I strived to be a student of the world, even though my path became non-traditional.
Almost seven years into my career, I decided to take a coding course – learning Ruby, HTML, and CSS. I was intrigued by the language that feeds our daily lives, so ubiquitous and yet so misunderstood.
This coding course changed the trajectory of my career and sparked a passion for how technology can be used creatively to solve real problems, transform lives, and solve our world’s greatest challenges. But I noticed one thing: the creators of this technology were mostly men. I knew it was extremely important to have diversity at the table of those who build the technology that powers our daily lives. What kind of life-changing global apps or solutions would we have at our fingertips if more underrepresented groups were encouraged to pursue their STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] interests and supported in these endeavors from an early age?
The following spring, I offered to send a few girls to the same class I had followed via a post on my YouTube channel and Instagram. The response was overwhelming and I received thousands of applications. This led me to found Kode With Klossy in 2015, which runs free summer camp sessions that teach young women and non-binary youth the basics of coding.
The academics who have participated over the years have amazed me with their ingenuity in developing impactful projects. One group has created an app that uses machine learning technology to teach people how to properly recycle everyday objects, and another has created a social network that connects women and other gender minorities who want to pursue careers in technology. To date, Kode With Klossy has trained over 12,000 scholars, who prove year after year that with the right tools, young people can build the world they want to see.
Although modeling is still my ‘day job’, spending the better part of the last decade working in both fashion and tech has helped me conceptualize how digital technology can help solve some of the biggest fashion issues. For example, technology already opens up many opportunities to develop creative expression and design. It can also help address some of the industry’s biggest challenges, from its role in the climate crisis to the lack of size inclusiveness.
I believe the designers of the future won’t just sew, they’ll code.
In recent years, fashion has been booming with technological innovations. Digital designers, for example, use 3D modeling and AR to outfit avatars and humans.
The potential to change the way fashion is made, maintained and accessed is limitless. And it was amazing to collaborate with the creatives that lean on that innovative front.
A few years ago I launched a new line with Adidas, and we collaborated with digital fashion house, The Manufacturer, to design a virtual version of a jacket from the collection. Then we made this digital garment available to artists to create their own interpretations. So many people put their unique spin on the clothes, and the top 20 entries were auctioned off as NFTs. Revenue was split equally between the creators and Kode with Klossy.
This summer, I worked with immersive gaming platform Roblox and its talented community of creators to host a digital pop-up store called Fashion Klossette Designer Showcase. Community digital fashion designers were invited to create and showcase their avatar outfits, which attracted two million unique players in just two weeks. Sales of the store’s virtual clothing went directly to the designers, affirming the value of their creativity.
These young designers are already revolutionizing the way people express themselves online, dressing millions of members of the Roblox community who update their avatars daily.
The designers I have worked with for the Fashion Klossette Designer Showcase come from diverse backgrounds and build their personal brands, collections and careers. Some have already been approached by the biggest fashion brands for collaborations. Their creativity is enabled by new digital spaces, technologies and tools that allow easy access from anywhere, unhindered by the financial and other limitations of the physical world.
My goal is to help further bridge the gap between them and the established fashion industry. This first experience was just the beginning of what we’re building on Roblox, and I’m excited for everything to come.
A need for durable solutions
Boundary-pushing talent and innovative ideas will always be some of my favorite things about the fashion industry. But there’s still a lot to be desired in terms of sustainability and inclusiveness.
Physical fashion produces a lot of waste and is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Digital technology will be the best weapon to fight against this and make the fashion industry more sustainable. Advanced technologies – such as AI, AR, 3D modeling and RFID tagging – are already creating effective tools that reduce industry’s carbon footprint and environmental pollution.
Take Bods, for example. It’s a virtual fitting tool that uses a digital copy of a shopper’s body to help them find the right size before ordering clothes online. I decided to invest in the company because these types of innovations alleviate one of the industry’s growing problems with returned goods, which often end up in landfills even though they are still portable. The inherent uncertainty of online shopping also results in an obscene excess of inventory that never actually reaches the people who want or need it.
Cher Horowitz’s virtual closet in the 1995 film “Clueless” might be one of the best models in digitized fashion. This has been an inspiration to my own closet and many Kode scholars with Klossy – whether they created apps to specifically showcase fashion looks and trends, or translated the layout to visually present information in a fun and simple way.
Today, new innovations such as the digital tracking of physical garments once they leave the store have even greater implications. The use of embedded RFID tags can help shift fashion towards a circular design pattern.
Eon, a company in which I have also invested, provides real-time environmental impact reports using this technology. As clothing evolves through its life cycle, Eon provides brands with accurate data on its impact and offers consumers transparency on every item in their wardrobe. Information that is usually hard to find and decipher, such as how clothes are made and how they can potentially be recycled, is available to everyone through this technology. Dealers will be able to weed out counterfeit clothing and determine better prices for genuine used items, creating a stronger and more credible second-hand market.
But fashion needs more people with the skills to make these lofty goals a common practice.
A way forward
Young women and gender non-conforming people have always faced greater barriers to becoming programmers or software engineers. Rarely are STEM fields presented as a realistic path for young girls. I was confident and curious enough to enter this industry, but only as an adult with a successful career already secured. Many marginalized groups do not have this privilege, which is why I am so keen to equip them with these skills and give them access to opportunities.
This year, we completed our 7th Summer of Kode with Klossy Camps, with 4,000 young, female, non-compliant coders from 99 different countries participating. I have seen our academics recognize their own power and potential. This type of self-realization pays dividends even beyond a career path. The diversity that some of them will bring to the workforce can change fashion and the world.
As CNN’s Jacqui Palumbo told
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