Digital dress at fashion week

Where fashion meets tech.

Tuesday, a group of young girls watched as supermodel Coco Rocha walked across a runway at New York Fashion Week, wearing a dress they helped code. 

In partnership with Google’s Made With Code program, designer Zac Posen, debuted the gorgeous dress, hand-coded with LED light designs. 

Made With Code aims to help educate girls on how programming is more than sitting behind a computer; in this case, it goes all the way to the catwalk. The website provides a number of free programming projects that teach the basics of computer science, including designing dresses, and lighting up White House Christmas trees over the holidays. 

Seven girls from the Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York attended the ZAC Zac Posen show which featured his Spring-Summer 2016 collection along with the black dress illuminated by pre-programmed lights and designs they helped create. LEGC has worked on Made With Code projects since the program launched last year. 

Kate Sease, development officer and events manager at LEGC told me that by seeing designs come to life, girls in the community program now have a better understanding of just how intertwined the worlds of fashion and tech can be. The organization works to empower low-income girls and women through educational programs, job training, and social advocacy, and two groups—the maker shop and design shop—were especially drawn to this particular project. 

The maker shop introduces girls to computer programming through things like Arduino and wearable technologies while the design shop teaches sewing and other skills to girls interested in fashion design. Through Made With Code, girls from both groups collaborated on one project. 

“Right now we’re at a really exciting time when the fashion world is embracing technology.”

“We knew it would be an exciting way to get girls who are already involved in our programming classes, and girls who are involved in fashion and design programs to come together and learn about the intersection of those two worlds and excite them about the possibilities available,” Sease said in an interview. “Right now we’re at a really exciting time when the fashion world is embracing technology and figuring out what they can do with tech.”

Girls from organizations including Black Girls Code, the Flatiron School, and Girls Who Code also participated in the Zac Posen programming project, and their designs lit up Rocha’s dress. Fifty girls from the coding programs, including LEGC, attended the fashion show. 

Posen designed the dress while Made With Code mentor and fashion designer Maddy Maxey programmed and fabricated the LED technology and 500 lights inside the dress to display the colors and designs the girls coded online. A microcontroller programmed the lights to match Posen’s show while Rocha made her way down the runway. 

Anyone can try the Made With Code program that will take you step-by-step through designing a sparkling dress. It’s one of a number of free programs on the website that take things like selfies, dancing, GIFs and music, and put them to code. 

Sease said that the middle-school girls who weren’t naturally drawn to tech and coding were impressed by how these skills can translate into an industry they’re interested in, and those who were already interested in tech had the opportunity to see the different creative avenues their skills could take them down. And because of events like the one at New York Fashion Week, many of those interests are beginning to overlap. 

Look at that twirl 🌀🌀🌀#zaczacposen #dressedincode #nyfw @cocorocha @madewithcode

A video posted by ZAC Zac Posen (@zaczacposen) on

“We had one girl who is really interested in fashion and the arts and she came with us today,” Sease said. “She attended the first Made With Code event, and after leaving today, wanted to enroll in the maker girls program.”

Out of 30,000 high school students who took the AP computer science exam in 2014, just 20 percent of the students were women. In Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming, no female students took the test. The disparity exists in college, too: women earn 18 percent of university degrees in computer science. 

On Tuesday, young women watched their code transform into fashion right before their eyes. According to Sease, that’s crucial for understanding the opportunities that exist for people with technical skills. 

“It’s a great way to get them interested in coding, and also a great way for the girls who are interested in coding to open up what they see as possibilities in the tech scene,” Sease said. “You don’t have to be the person building the backend or front end of a website. If you are creatively minded, or love fashion, you can find a way to use both.”

Photo via Made With Code/Google

Selena Larson

Selena Larson

Selena Larson is a technology reporter based in San Francisco who writes about the intersection of technology and culture. Her work explores new technologies and the way they impact industries, human behavior, and how we interact with the world.

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