It feels rare to find a quiet moment with Karlie Kloss. As she enters a room in the corridors of Apple Fifth Avenue, joking that she can finally take off her Britney Spears-esque microphone headset, the chatter of the day’s excitement is still audible outside.
Kode With Klossy — Kloss’ tuition-free coding camp for young women, gender non-conforming, and transgender teens aged 13-18 — has just wrapped up its final camp of the summer in New York City. As is tradition at the end of each camp, the scholars celebrated their achievements with a “demo day” — in which campers showcase the projects they’ve completed over the past two weeks.
One trio — Violet Monserate, 17, Chelsea Liu, 17, and Pari Aiyer, 16 — debuted the “iRecycle” app prototype that they created in Kode With Klossy and Apple’s all-new AI/Machine Learning program. Designed to facilitate proper recycling habits, iRecycle allows users to scan objects and identify whether they’re recyclable in certain states. Sristi Panchu, 19, a camper from the App Development program (which teaches campers how to use Apple’s latest programming language, Swift), demonstrated how her father’s visual impairment inspired her to create “Munch,” an app prototype that makes recipes more accessible for people with disabilities.
As photo ops with Kloss approach a lull and ice cream trucks await campers outside, one might assume that Kloss will take the day to rest upon the laurels of their landmark year. But the 30-year-old entrepreneur and supermodel is already looking ahead: “At 5 [p.m.] today, the last day of camp ends for summer 2022, but immediately [the Kode With Klossy team and Apple] are going into growth.”
It’s this ever-eager mindset that has allowed Kode With Klossy to expand from a scholarship program of 21 scholars in 2015 to an international program of 12,000 scholars across 99 countries today. It's also what led Kloss to partner with Apple for the past five years, offering cutting-edge coding education to their ever-growing community. And, with over 65% of Kode With Klossy alumni pursuing studies in computer science or engineering (compared to 3% of women nationally), it begins to make sense why Kloss might look forward to the future more than most.
In the brief pause between 2022 celebrations and 2023 prep, Bustle caught up with Kloss to discuss the social causes that motivate her, Kode With Klossy’s latest ventures with Apple, and what topics she’s been nerding out on lately.
Your most recent Kode With Klossy camp with Today at Apple Creative Studios showcased many scholars who had developed app prototypes geared toward social impact. Is there a certain social cause that you think is especially important for technological innovation to focus upon right now?
For me, the cause I care about is just democratizing access to these spaces and tools. And that’s what Creative Studios really is doing. We’re not telling the scholars, “You have to build something that is social impact driven.” This is just where their hearts and minds take them.
I was in a mobile app development camp recently and the scholars were building apps solving for the same sort of conversations — climate change, sexual harassment in the workplace or in learning environments, and access to resources around mental health conversations, sustainability, and fashion.
These are themes that I have continued to see, that I think are a reflection of what this generation is thinking about. This is a project that they build in two, three days. Imagine what they’re going to go on to do. They’re at a pivotal moment in their life. And that’s why I love that we reached them at this interesting moment where they’re so young.
Gen Z has inherited a plethora of impending social justice concerns, [such as the climate crisis as you just mentioned]. Have you witnessed your campers become more empowered or hopeful by gaining this new means for change through technological education?
No question. Even in the conversation around technology, a lot of people, and, in particular, women, are intimidated by the idea of technology. I think there’s a lot of abstract ideas around what it is and who’s behind it. I see how [the scholars] may have initially been intimidated by these conversations. But, at the end of [the program], they realize they’re just scratching the surface, and they have the confidence to walk into these spaces.
It’s not just the skill set, but it’s actually this self-realization of knowing that you can, that you are deserving, that you are seen, and you have a community behind you.
A major focus of Kode With Klossy is paving the way for more diversity in the STEM field. How do you think technology as we know it will change for the better as the STEM field becomes more diverse?
We all have different life experiences and we talk about this a lot in our camps. We have something called “The Culture of Tech” conversations, and we tailor it to what they’re learning.
Recently, I was in a data science camp, and they were talking about data gaps and how that can inform biases in how studies are done, how medical trials are run, and how technology is built. I believe deeply that we need to have diversity of thought and of life experience informing the decisions that are building or informing algorithms — creating the technology that touches all of our lives. Because, if it has bias embedded, that’s going to show up in so many ways, and not serve all of us equally.
I’m hopeful that the first step is just the awareness and the conversation, and these young people are making the change. They’re equipping themselves with the skills to supercharge their ideas, be informed by their life experiences, and actually solve them despite their age.
Is there an important lesson you have learned from your Kode With Klossy scholars?
So many things. One, I think a lot of our scholars are at a really vulnerable age, being a teenage girl or gender non-conforming teen in the world today. Something that I say to them a lot — but actually feel like I learn from them — is to own your space and to own your power and have confidence in yourself. And these things are cliché, but I see them own their power and it makes me, as an adult, want to stand a little bit taller and own my space.
You’ve often said that you are a student of the world. Are there any new rabbit holes that you’ve found yourself studying up on lately?
Oh, boy. I was just nerding out with a friend. We’re going to do this class on economics, and also astronomy. I’m so fascinated by learning about space and our solar system and universe. I’m always asking questions. Economic mobility is also something that, during the past few years, I’ve become much more informed on and involved in. I’m excited about the changing landscape on that front. I’m always nerding out in different directions.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.