Victoria’s Secret model Karlie Kloss gets down to business

June 19, 2014, 5:38 PM UTC
Karlie Kloss attended the recent Cinema Against AIDS Gala in Cap d'Antibes, France. Because of course she did.
Karlie Kloss attended the recent Cinema Against AIDS Gala in Cap d'Antibes, France. Because of course she did.
2014 Kevin Tachman/amfAR14—WireImage

As if her high cheekbones and perfect body weren’t reason enough to think Karlie Kloss was a specter put on earth to torment the average woman, the 21-year-old Victoria’s Secret model is also a philanthropist, some-time Harvard Business School student, and entrepreneur. (Oh, and she’s dating venture capitalist and real estate scion Joshua Kushner.) But to resent her too much would be to miss out on some of her hip and ambitious collaborations, the proceeds of which will go to getting healthy food to needy children.

Last week, Kloss launched a new design project with trendy eyewear designer Warby Parker as part of a philanthropic venture that will donate profits to Edible Schoolyard NYC. That’s in addition to another charitable collaboration with the famous Momofuku Milkbar to sell a healthy cookie. Kloss is also involved with the Clinton Global Initiative and attended the United Nations’ Global Accelerator conference. Fortune recently spoke with fashion’s emerging entrepreneur to get her take on corporate strategy and philanthropy. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Fortune: How did the deal with Warby Parker happen?

Kloss: It happened organically. Neil [Blumenthal], Dave [Gilboa], and I met at a basketball game a few years ago, and just sort of hit it off. We decided to collaborate on something together. For me, it was exciting to be a part of the design process from the very inception of it. Normally, I’m involved at the very last stage of the advertising component for fashion brands or for any kind of company, but it was exciting for me to be involved on a very hands-on level—in the creation and design process. Being in the office, seeing the office culture, seeing the business from the inside out. That’s something I don’t normally have exposure to.

What was it like working with those guys?

I wish I had a desk job there. They have this really great energy in the office. Everybody is so creative and excited about what they’re doing. The way that the business model is structured, and the way that they operate is that as the company grows, the more successful the company becomes, the more glasses you’re able to sell, the more they’re able to donate. It’s sort of an incredible win-win for everyone. It gives purpose in a different kind of way than just profits. Impact is priceless.

You took a weeklong executive education course at Harvard Business School titled, “The Business of Media, Entertainment, and Sports.” What was the most valuable part of that program?

There were a lot of really valuable parts of that experience. I got to interact with the other students, who happened to be executives with 30 years under their belts in their field. All of us were in the business, entertainment, or media industries. It was interesting for me because I got to hear the perspectives from the corporate side of it, the people who work within companies. And they got to hear my perspective from my experiences working on the talent side.

One of the classes was taught by Sir Alex Ferguson, he was the coach of Manchester United for 25 or 30 years. He’s amazing. He’s this very famous coach who one of the [business] cases was written about, and he actually came in to teach and talk about the case. It was just this amazing opportunity to be a student again and to experience HBS.

How did your perspective change over the course of the class?

I think I just had a greater appreciation for all of the people that work on the corporate side. Whenever I get involved with a company—for instance doing a simple advertising job with them—I show up at the end of that process, so I miss all of the strategy and planning, the thought and energy that goes into it. It’s less to do with fashion, but it just gave me a greater appreciation for the manpower and corporate side of industry.

Which entrepreneurs do you find to be the most inspirational?

I am fascinated by social entrepreneurs, people who can take an idea and help it grow into a sustainable and successful business model, but also be able to make a social impact either through their product or through donations they make through their product. That’s something that I’m really inspired by. I want to learn how to apply that to projects and businesses that I start. Warby Parker is certainly one. And Lauren Bush, who works with the organization FEED. I work with her on my “Kookie” project, where a portion of the proceeds go to FEED. She also designs bags and different accessories that raise funds and awareness for baby formula, school lunches, and all sorts of different great things.

What exactly is the “Kookie” project?

It’s a combination of many things I care about: health and nutrition, but also baking, incorporating healthy alternative ingredients. Healthy foods can taste good. I wasn’t always aware of that growing up in the Midwest. This is a project that I started about a year-and-a-half ago with Momofuku Milk Bar, with Christina Tosi. She and I collaborated to come up with this recipe using healthy, alternative ingredients. So, no butter, no sugar, no eggs, no dairy, and none of the things you automatically think of when you think of a cookie. We eliminated all of those and decided to work with almond butter, agave, and olive oil, toasted slivered almonds, and gluten-free rolled oats. We created this cookie, and launched it for Fashion’s Night Out. We’ve been able to sell it in bakeries around the city and we’ve donated 500,000 school lunches from the sales over the past year-and-a-half.

What did you learn about the gritty business side? Are the margins on cookies tighter when you’re working with more expensive ingredients?

I’m fascinated by business, and I love new challenges. I’m hoping to scale this project into an actual business that can be profitable, sustainable, and can grow, but can make social impact in the way Warby Parker has been able to accomplish. For me, it’s a challenge I’m facing now–how to scale and keep costs down to be able to make it affordable and accessible on a mass scale, and not to lose the quality of your product.

Any big business projects on your horizon?

Always! Always excited about where life leads. Again, I just enjoy continuing to learn and I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’m just trying to learn from everyone I possibly can. I’m always working on small projects, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.