Our series “How I became a …” digs into the stories of accomplished and influential people, finding out how they got to where they are in their careers.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
While most high school freshmen were learning their way around a new school, supermodel and tech entrepreneur Karlie Kloss was starting her career, walking for Calvin Klein after being discovered at a St. Louis shopping mall. Today, Kloss, 26, has appeared on the cover of Vogue 40 times and walked for everyone from Victoria’s Secret and Christian Dior to Versace and Oscar de la Renta.
Kloss balances her high-flying modeling career with everything from being the host on the newest season of “Project Runway” to Kode With Klossy, which she founded to give girls the opportunity to learn how to code and become tech leaders.
Kode With Klossy hosts free summer camps across the country for young women ages 13-18, with applications opening Wednesday for the newest group of young female coders.
USA TODAY caught up with Kloss to talk about her illustrious modeling career, finding balance between work and life and eating her way through the world during her travels.
Question: How did you get your start in modeling?
Kloss: I fell into fashion. I got my start in modeling because I was discovered in a mall when I was 13 years old in St. Louis, Missouri. I, at the time, had no idea of fashion and of the modeling world. It wasn’t until I was 15 years old that I seriously considered the opportunity to take a chance and to go to New York and see where the opportunity could take me. The same week I started my freshman year of high school, I started school on Monday, and for Friday and the long weekend I went to New York and I got booked to walk Calvin Klein for New York Fashion Week. It was the most incredible start to a very fast-paced career, and pretty much immediately after that I was full-time working in fashion, traveling the world and also a freshman in high school. I proceeded to do that for all four years of high school.
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Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?
Kloss: One of the things that I love about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical workday. No two days are alike in my calendar and that can be a blessing and it can be exhausting sometimes. A big part of my workday is spent on set, and that can be anywhere in the world. One thing I always incorporate in my day is fitting in a sweat – so whether that means going for a run first thing in the morning before work or afterwards. But, fitting in a workout and then heading to set, which is sometimes in a studio, sometimes on location – you know, running through the streets of Paris and doing a photo shoot, or sitting on the edge of a volcano and doing a photo shoot for a magazine cover. I feel like I’ve been able to see and experience all four corners of the earth because of my day job, and no two workdays are alike.
Q: How do you balance work and life?
Kloss: I’ve learned to multitask. I have incredible people around me and on my team, but I’ve also learned with time to work smarter and not just harder and to really only spend time on jobs and with people that I really love and respect, and who love and respect me. The juggle of work and life is something that we’re all constantly figuring out, but especially with all of the different things I have going on, you just make it work. I’m really lucky because I love my day job, and I love what I get to do, and I’m someone who really goes out of my way to experience where I am and learn from people around me. I feel that sometimes the line blurs and they are one.
Q: Why did you choose to get into coding?
Kloss: It’s something that I didn’t learn growing up. It’s not something I had access to in my school, and I have been able to meet so many entrepreneurs in tech, and I think everyone realizes it’s the language that’s building the technology of today and certainly of our future. For me, it’s really important to use my voice and platform in any way I can to help provide opportunities for other young women to be a part of that conversation and be a part of building the technology of our future.
Q: What made you start Kode With Klossy?
Kloss: That really came out of sheer passion and curiosity. I had a couple of weeks off in my modeling career, and I decided to sign up for a coding bootcamp and really learn kind of the fundamentals of code and how technology is built. I was really inspired by the power of this skillset and this language, but really blown away by the fact that this was something I had no exposure to prior. Most people, certainly most young women, don’t have access to that kind of learning, nor are they encouraged to get into it. I was really blown away by how creative of a skillset that is, and how creative you can be with using technology to solve problems and build your ideas into businesses or things that can really make impact in the world.
Q: To what do you credit your success in your career?
Kloss: Honestly, I feel really grateful. I’ve felt like I’ve experienced the Cinderella kind of opportunity to see the world and to learn from incredible people. I’m from the Midwest and I am somebody who, it is part of my value system – something I learned from my parents – to treat others with kindness, to show up and work hard, and give it everything you’ve got. I’m someone who approaches every day with a no job too big or too small kind of mentality. It’s hard work, giving it my all and 100 percent my parents. Back to when I first started my career, my parents were really my biggest advocates in not only just the profession that I have chosen, but just generally in supporting whatever I want to do in life.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Kloss: The people I meet and I work with and learn from. I’m always going out of my way to meet interesting people in the cities I get to travel to, whether it’s in fashion or business. I’m constantly curious about what’s happening and how I can learn from those around me. I also really love being able to eat my way around the world. Every city I go to, I always love discovering amazing restaurants and bakeries.
Q: What is your advice for someone who wants a career in modeling?
Kloss: It’s going to take thick skin, hard work, ready to show up and give it your all, and have that no job too big or too small mentality. I really do think that kindness goes such a long way in the world and certainly in any job that you choose. I find fashion and modeling really is a people business and treating other people with kindness is really very important. Treating others the way you want to be treated.
- What’s your coffee order? An iced coffee with almond milk.
- What’s your favorite book? “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coehlo.
- What’s your favorite song of the moment? “River” by Leon Bridges
- What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done? Starting Kode With Klossy. For me, it’s been amazing to watch so many young women go on to do incredible things in their life.