This 22-year-old coder’s LED dress is making runway history

It’s no secret that the tech industry is sorely lacking in women. Some are pushed out of the biz, and some never make it in there in the first place, all thanks to the rampant sexism that tells girls that STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are reserved exclusively for guys. Well, Google’s program Made With Code is here to change that.

Made With Code is an initiative to inspire young girls to pursue computer science by showing them just how, well, fun it can be. “Girls start out with a love of science and technology, but lose it somewhere along the way,” their mission states. “Let’s help encourage that passion.”

It’s true. In middle school, 74% of girls are interested in STEM, but by high school, the percentage of girls who want to pursue computer science drops to an astounding 0.4%. What gives? Made With Code insists that it’s a lack of encouragement that leads to this sharp decrease in numbers; that it’s sexism that is passed down through generations and perpetuated by peers and the media.

Well Made With Code teamed up with an awesome gal Maddy Maxey, who is showing other girls how they can break this cycle and keep those STEM number up. Maddy is a 22-year-old designer who studied computer science. Maddy got the chance to put her coding skills on display — literally — during a Made With Code fashion event last week. She explains how she got the chance to design an LED dress that walked the runway: “Two or three months ago [Google was] like, ‘Hey, we want to make an LED dress. How would we do this? And we ended up talking about the technology and how we would go for it. Zac Posen ended up being interested as the main designer. So we all collaborated.”

Zac Posen, who debuted the dress at his Spring/Summer 2016 show, was the perfect fit for a project like this, because he absolutely shares this mission. To him, women are the undeniable future of tech.

As Posen said, “I think that fashion is a great, enticing tool, because so many young women are interested in fashion, the world of it, what I can fashion-tainment. To see them have the ability to learn the actual language of coding, first through fashion, and then who knows where they’ll take it into the future, is really essential for women in the tech space.”

Coding has become more and more of a buzzword these days, and what’s interesting is that it’s often put in the context of fashion. When model Karlie Kloss told the world how involved she was in the world of coding, even creating a scholarship called Kode With Karlie, a question was heard loud and clear? Why? What makes fashion and coding go together so well? “I feel like by nature they don’t,” Maddy explains. “Which is why people are talking about it.”

Naturally, the combination of two different mediums is bound to bring up some challenges. But Maddy has learned that this has only helped the two fields grow: “Something that I always like to bring up is that…circuit board design is like 90% functionality, while fashion design is like 90% aesthetics. So you can just imagine how conflicted a lot of those conversations are, where the technologist is like “this isn’t functional” and the designer is like, “this looks awful.” So I think people like Karlie Kloss are trying to be like, “Look, we can work together, we’re both actually really similar kinds of people.” Building a garment is still a structural task.”

How Zac sees it, fashion and coding are two sides of the same coin: “Fashion, from a craft point of view, is absolute emotional geometry, and science. I mean, engineering is there in clothing. The balance of it. So to me there is a handcraft element of fashion, and coding takes that even further. I mean, you can fully design clothing on computers now, now that we’re getting into textile design, you know, with the LEDs, this is just the beginning of it.”

So, now you’re hooked, and you’re itching to code something, like, yesterday. Maddy has some tried and true advice for girls looking to get involved in the industry:

And you can start right here. Made With Code’s website has a whole page of awesome projects you can do from the comfort of your couch. You can follow in Maddy’s footsteps and design your own LED dress, make your own soundtrack using code, or even make your own GIFs! If these projects prove anything, it’s that the possibilities for science and technology are endless and fascinating. Most of all, they’re fun, and they wan’t you to be a part of it. Hop on over to the website now, and one day we’ll see your work on the runway!

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(Images via author)

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