Fashion Rule Breakers

Buying This Bracelet Doesn't Just Make A Statement, It Gets You Coding Lessons

" [...] why not be fashionable changing the world?"

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

More and more jobs require science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills, but these fields are still largely dominated by men. In the United States, only 18 percent of computer science college degrees go to women. In 2015, women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs, but only 24 percent entered STEM fields, according to a study by the Office of the Chief Economist. In American high schools, those numbers aren't much better. Only 27 percent of all students taking the AP Computer Science exam are female.

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Kayte Malik hopes to help improve those numbers with Dresscode, a startup jewelry company that merges fashion and technology to excite and educate women and girls about STEM. The company sells bracelets that have computer science code strings from different languages embedded on them, and empowering messages written in binary code that say things such as, "I am brave" or "I am bold."  

Each piece of jewelry also comes with a lesson code written on a card users can enter as a login on the Dresscode website. This unlocks a variety of coding lessons in languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  

"Each lesson takes between 30 to 50 minutes and then the user has unlimited access to the code environment to continue to play with the code," Malik told A Plus. "The lessons build on each other and by the end of the three lessons the user should have knowledge on how a website works and how to code one." 

Courtesy of Kayte Malik

Malik was inspired to co-found Dresscode with Bryan Grubert after being only one of two women majoring in computer science at Saint Bonaventure University in New York. Unfortunately, she quickly fell behind because she hadn't had exposure to basic programming skills like so many of her male classmates. "I ultimately ended up switching majors because I felt like I didn't belong," Malik said. 

She switched her major to business information systems, but never stopped being passionate about tech. She taught herself programming languages and spent much of her career in technology-focused roles. But she found a similar problem in the workplace as she did in the classroom. "In the corporate world, I was usually the only woman on a project," Malik said. 

While working on her MBA at the University of Notre Dame in 2016, she realized she didn't want other women and girls to have the same discouraging experience as her. As part of a project for her program, she started Dresscode. 

"In business school, I saw a need to excite and expose more women and girls to technology, innovation and coding and thought that fashion would be a great way to do that," Malik said. "I want women and girls to know that technology can be beautiful and the opportunities are endless if one knows how to code."

Courtesy of Kayte Malik

Malik and Grubert bootstrapped the company which was no easy feat. "Trying to figure out how to get our technology built with no money was a challenge," Malik said. "Also, I had no clue about manufacturing, so, as a company, we had to become educated about that. I always struggle with the fact that I think we are not moving fast enough as well."

She quickly had to learn to be conformable doing things she'd never done before and asking a ton of questions. She surrounded herself with others with a similar drive to create and know more than she does. "That is the only way Dresscode will be successful," Malik said. 

Courtesy of Kayte Malik

For those hoping to get girls more interested in STEM, Malik suggests helping them to find role models in the field and encouraging them to interact with technology. Dresscode is certainly one way to do that, but there are many other products or organizations that can help. Perhaps most important of all, inspire girls in the space to be curious. 

"Whether it is fashion, technology or any other industry it is so important to be curious. Curiosity is where ideas come from and it is ideas that solve problems. There are many problems that need to be solved today as well as in the future. Technology can help us solve those problems and why not be fashionable changing the world?" Malik said. "As it relates to STEM and computer science, in the 1980s, 37 percent of all computer science majors were women. Today that number is under 20 percent. We are going in the wrong direction. We need to empower more women and girls to be excited about technology."

To help, Dresscode has also partnered with a number of non-profits that support women and girls in STEM such as Wonder Women Tech, South Bend Code School, and Expanding Your Horizons Chicago. 

Courtesy of Kayte Malik

"I want our Dresscoders to know they can create beautiful things with technology," Malik said. "I want both women and girls not to be intimidated by coding or STEM and to gain new skills to set them up for success."

Cover image via Unsplash

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