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In the fall of 2007, Karlie Kloss started her freshman year of high school. Before the first week even ended, she'd also booked her first show in New York Fashion Week, with Calvin Klein. Kloss had already been modeling for a couple years at that point, but that exclusive deal with Calvin Klein jumpstarted her career as a full-fledged supermodel. By the following New York Fashion Week, she'd walked in 64 shows alongside shooting ad campaigns and editorial. It sounds like a whirlwind—a larger-than-life dream many teenagers can't begin to imagine—but in the era before rampant social media, Kloss maintained a relatively normal life while at home in St. Louis, Missouri.
"The only way I can explain my high school experience is [to] say, Hannah Montana," Kloss, who now serves as a global brand ambassador for Estée Lauder, says. "I really had this dual life: I was this quiet nerd, and because there was no social media, no one knew about this other part of my double life of being a global fashion model traveling to Milan and Paris and having an apartment in New York."
That Kloss had any semblance of normalcy in high school is quite remarkable. In fact, it was in the years following that something felt off for her. At the height of Kloss's career, she was traveling the world, gracing the cover of countless magazines, and walking in hundreds of runway shows, but she got into her early twenties and something wasn't right.
"I felt this feeling in my gut of like, I know there's more to who I am and what I'm capable of, and I'm not feeding a part of my soul and my mind in the way that I know I want to and need to," Kloss recalls. "At the time, when I'm in this fast-paced, crazy career, the idea of pressing pause in any way is counterintuitive, but I could feel it. And when you have those intuitions—in my experience—and ignore them, they only get louder."
So at the time when all her high school friends were graduating from college, she began learning computer programing from Avi Flombaum, the founder of the Flatiron School. It opened up an entire world to her, one that showed her how creative and expansive coding is for people who know how to do it. Understanding the power and opportunity it affords people got her thinking about who gets to learn to code.
"In my mind, at the time, it was like guys in hoodies in Silicon Valley that are coming up with the innovation changing every industry in our world. Why is it that more women aren't a part of that?" Kloss asked herself. "I was so inspired by the scale of being able to problem solve and be entrepreneurial and how creative at its core coding really is. I had this really powerful experience learning to code, and I wanted to create more opportunities like what I had for other young women to realize their potential and to realize the opportunities that exist in this industry"
And that's how Kode With Klossy started, initially as a scholarship program offered to 21 girls interested in learning to code, and grew into a nationwide coding camp for nearly 5,000 girls. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Kloss was forced to take those camps online. What was an initial disappointment turned into a huge opportunity: KWK doubled the enrollment and expanded into twenty countries.
"We learned a lot in the process," Kloss says. "I'm really working with my team to continue to think about scale and the broader problem of access and not just to computer-science education but the digital divide. We're in a school year where many millions of students across this country are learning remotely, and many millions of them don't have access to the simple things of broadband and equipment."
Courtesy of Karlie Kloss
Clearly, Kloss is always learning. Throughout modeling, she learned how to hustle and handle rejection. In going back to school and starting a business, she learned how to trust her gut. "There's no such thing as failing; there's just learning," Kloss says. "You take a risk, and you either succeed or you grow, and I think if you look at it in that way, there's a lot less to lose."
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