How female coders are shaping the future of fashion

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08:  Coco Rocha and Zac Posen walk the runway during the Zac Zac Posen Spring 2016 runway show ...

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Coco Rocha and Zac Posen walk the runway during the Zac Zac Posen Spring 2016 runway show at Industria Studios on September 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Thomas Concordia/WireImage) Photo: Thomas Concordia

When Coco Rocha sashayed down the runway at ZAC by Zac Posen's show at New York Fashion Week, she lit up the entire room – quite literally.

Her black nylon mesh dress was embedded with over 500 programmable LED lights that had been coded by a team of teen girls.


The incredible @cocorocha in the @zaczacposen x @madewithcode LED #dressedincode @google

A video posted by @zac_posen on

The one-of-a-kind creation is part of a fashion-meets-tech partnership with Google and was created with the help of teen tech geniuses, aged 11 to 18, recruited through Google's Made With Code and other non-profit code academies such as Girls Inc and Girls Who Code.


As part of the program, students could log on and choose a mysterious LED-based project. They then had one day to master the necessary skills, and complete and submit their work. 

The girls involved in the ZAC by Zac Posen creation had no idea what they were contributing to, but were surprised and excited to see the dress unveiled on the catwalk. (A lucky few even got to skip school to attend. A most noble reason to play hooky if ever we've heard one.)

The collaboration captured Posen's design aesthetic and was inspired by the Los Angeles city lights on Sunset Boulevard, resulting in a surprisingly attractive piece of wearable technology.

As fashion gets caught up in the wave of programmable things, could computable fabrics such as this be the way of the future? Will we soon be coding our T-shirts each morning to decide what design we want?

Well, it's certainly an area brimming with potential. Programs such as Made With Code are growing in number and aim to inspire the next generation of female coders. "Based on a lot of research we've done, we realised that less than one per cent of girls aren't interested in computer science, because it doesn't align with their existing dreams and interests," says Jackie Lau, marketing manager at Google. "Fashion is something teen girls are interested in, and our technologist Maddy Maxey worked with Zac to take the girls' designs and integrate them into the LED dress."

Though statistics paint a rather discouraging picture – only one quarter of computer science jobs are held by women, and only 14 per cent of recent computer science graduates were female – this new crop of teen girl coders is determined to break the cycle. They're not intimidated by coding, but are teaching themselves and teaming up with other likeminded coders, recognising its potential to power everyday things.

While the world of coding used the be dominated by stereotypes of greasy male technies, hovered over their computers, wearing hoodies and getting squinty-eyed in darkened basements, that's no longer the case. Just look at the spike in female-friendly coding communities such as Black Girls Code and Women Who Code, popping up across Silicon Valley.

Fashion and coding may seem like strange bedfellows, but actually, they have a lot in common. With coding and couture, creativity is key and the potential is as limitless as your passion. These are two industries both dedicated to producing new ideas for the future.

"People think coding sounds so hard. I kind of did, too. But I found that coding is not that hard! It's just like math or English, you just have to learn it," says Jenny Zeng, one of the tech masterminds behind the light-up dress.

As for Posen, he wanted his design to act as a showcase for the "magical possibility of young women's creativity." He hopes his partnership with Google will inspire even more girls to get involved with tech, helping to close the gender gap.

Thankfully, by the looks of things, it already seems to be shrinking. 


We are Girls Who Code #gwcaccentureny @accenturedigital

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Biased Breaker, a creative and FUN game designed to break hidden biases. Literally. #girlswhocode #girlsbuiltthis

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The incredible @cocorocha in the @zaczacposen x @madewithcode LED #dressedincode @google

A video posted by @zac_posen on