Women Together: Karlie Kloss and Elaine Welteroth

Women Together: Karlie Kloss and Elaine Welteroth

The year was 2016, the borough was Harlem, and the women were Karlie Kloss and Elaine Welteroth (the two beauties featured in the photos above). One Sunday morning, author and journalist Welteroth had just stepped out of her apartment, a hoodie tied tightly around her head. Jogging by as part of the New York City marathon at that exact moment was none other than model, philanthropist and entrepreneur, Karlie Kloss.

It’s the end of a chilly February shoot day in New York City and the two are settled onto a plush linen couch. A radiantly orange Manhattan sun has just slipped below the skyline; Welteroth wears slippers, the kind you get from a hotel, Kloss has on slide sandals. “So we just were like, ‘Oh! Why don’t we have a photo shoot?’ and then we were like, ‘Oh and a video,’” Kloss, who is French, adds, a palpable excitement still present all these years later. And that was the start what is now officially called the Lower East Side Girls Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to girls and woman empowerment, but at the beginning was just called a beautiful friendship.

For Kloss and Welteroth, the strength of their collaboration was born from a deep well of mutual respect. “I’ve always admired Karlie’s ambition. She’s very business savvy and has her fingers in loads of pies at once. She was one of the first girls to do curve modeling and for someone who had an eating disorder and wanted to love their body, she certainly gave me something to look up to,” says Welteroth, 27, who wrote about her own journey to self acceptance in a recently published memoir, More Than Enough.

“Elaine is able to use her life experience and struggle to empower others and I think that’s really important—to not stay stuck in the past, but to use that to empower a younger generation. She does that with writing and I think that’s really cool,” Kloss, 30, adds.

For both women, style has played an important role in finding their place in the world—although that certainly doesn’t mean they like the same things. “Style is a reflection of how you feel inside. I always had a lot of fun with fashion, since I was a kid. Over time, I learned how to style for my own body and not try to imitate and follow fashion, but to really find what makes me me, what reflects the best what’s inside of me,” says Kloss. Translation? “Give me a wide baggy jumpsuit and a pair of slippers and I’m in paradise!” These days, Welteroth is more of a jeans and heels type of girl. “I used to hide my body underneath layers of clothes, and now I feel proud of it. I like a bit of tight clothing. It’s about accentuating the things that make me feel sexy and womanly.”

While they may not agree on footwear, they are lockstep when it comes to their passion for lifting up other women—which is why being the faces of the empowerment t-shirt collection from Express was a no-brainer. “Empowerment teaches girls that you can be more than what you look like, and that you do have a purpose in this world that goes beyond your appearance,” says Welteroth. Kloss nods emphatically. “Empowerment is key because you can’t really get anywhere or achieve much if you’re not empowered. That’s the reason we work towards empowerment: so that any girl can be anything she wants.”