Scholarship grows from ASU alums' viral 'It Was Never a Dress' campaign

June 17, 2015

What does a creative disruptor do? She changes the way we look at the world – by taking something as mundane and universal as the sign on a women's bathroom and making it soar.

Arizona State University alum Tania Katan has been making international waves as the “curator of code” at Axosoft, a local software company, with a new campaign called “It Was Never a Dress.” woman's bathroom symbol changed to look like a superhero cape Is it a dress? Or is it a superhero cape? "If we see women differently, we see the world differently," said ASU alum Tania Katan, co-creator of the campaign, "It Was Never a Dress." Photo by: Courtesy of Axosoft Download Full Image

The campaign aims to shift societal perceptions about women through storytelling, community building, innovation and creative disruptions.

“If we see women differently, we see the world differently,” said Katan, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in theatre from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

The campaign began with Katan, colleague Sara Breeding and Axosoft CEO Lawdan Shojaee – also both ASU alumni – brainstorming ideas together. (Breeding earned a bachelor's in design studies from the Herberger Institute and a bachelor's in marketing from the W. P. Carey School of Business; Shojaee received a bachelor's in exercise and wellness from what is now the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, in ASU’s College of Health Solutions.)

“We wanted to make a really big splash at the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference (in April),” Shojaee said. “We did a couple of exercises. We played off cliches. Tania and Sara said, ‘We know what you want,’ and they took off ... A few hours later they said, ‘We’ve got something for you.’ The minute you heard it and absorbed it, you knew it was big. Tania sketched it out (and said), ‘Bam! Look at that!” And Sara said, “Oh my gosh, it was never a dress!”

“This campaign was a culmination of all the creative arts training that I’ve had, all the intervention ‘arts’ training,”  Katan said in an interview.

“It Was Never a Dress” went viral almost immediately, with coverage on BuzzFeed, The New York Times, CNN, The Huffington Post and Time, among others. The New York Times headline read, “’It Was Never A Dress Graphic’ goes bananas online.” And BuzzFeed proclaimed Katan would “change the way you look at signs for the women’s bathroom forever.”

With the campaign’s meteoric rise in popularity, Axosoft expanded “It Was Never a Dress” to allow people to share their own stories about what it means to change perceptions and assumptions.

Axosoft is selling “It Was Never a Dress” T-shirts and other merchandise and has announced that profits from sales will fund a scholarship in the Herberger Institute for a need-based student entering a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) field.

It was a natural fit.

“ASU has been really vocal about this bridge between science, technology, engineering, mathematics – and art,” Katan said.

“I hope these scholarships create the diversity and creativity that this state needs,” Shojaee said. “There are already pockets of it, but if an institution started pumping it out, that would create that bridge that engineers and artists need. They’re not different, artists and engineers. They’re very similar.”

Shojaee said that when she first hired Katan, based on her faith in Katan’s vision and creative abilities, she told Katan that programming is “like art – we just have a different medium that we paint on.”

Early on, she said, Katan went to a coding event and heard people talking about the code on the screens as beautiful.

“She came back,” Shojaee recalled, “and she said, ‘I get it.’ ”

To learn more about the “It Was Never a Dress” campaign, visit

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


ASU scientist looks ahead to UN climate talks with tempered optimism

June 18, 2015

Hope has a way of evaporating when Sonja Klinsky talks about the international pursuit of global climate change.

And it’s not because the senior sustainability scientist in Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and assistant professor at the School of Sustainability is down on the process – quite the contrary. It’s just that she’s a realist. Sonja Klinsky Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability UN climate talks Sonja Klinsky, of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU's School of Sustainability, says things are progressing well ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference later this year, but that people should have realistic expectations. Download Full Image

Having recently returned from a United Nations meeting in Bonn, Germany, to help fine-tune a draft of a global climate pact, Klinsky said that things are progressing well ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris later this year.

There’s a lot of hope attached the gathering, which could result in a historic climate-change pact between every country on the planet. But therein lies the problem: Some people are expecting too much from this conference – which won’t offer an “easy button,” of sorts, that can remedy all of the globe’s climate-change issues.

“What I’m expecting is a fairly simple agreement that holds spaces for further development of these issues,” Klinsky said, reminding that every agreement has to be a consensus from the world’s governments. “That, for me, would be a strong agreement.”

Klinsky, an expert on equity in international climate negotiations, will be a part of the November and December conference in France.

Looking ahead, she offered the four key factors being discussed for a pact for global climate-change standards.


"So, who's going to cut how much of some capacity," she said. "And, more importantly in that, (determining) a process for steadily increasing those commitments. So there’s not only how much each country will commit now, but what kind of a process is going to be in place to make sure that increases over time. That would be a great thing in mitigation."


"(This) would be either how much money do we need to support countries that are going to need adaptation support or other kinds of in-kind contributions," Klinsky said. "And how are we going to make sure that increases to the level that is sufficient, because it probably won't be sufficient going in. Similar to mitigation, you have both what's going to be up front and what kind of a process are we going to have where we can systematically, over time, make sure that those needs are appropriate, happening and sufficiently supported."

Finance and support

"There are going to be certain countries who could make contributions, but they can't afford to or they don’t have the technology to," she said. "So there’s going to have to be some kind of provision in the agreement for facilitating support so that we get the full level of mitigation and adaptation needed by countries that could do something but just can’t afford it; they don’t have the resources to do it. And, again, I’m expecting some kind of upfront element there. But over time some sort of a mechanism to make sure we’re constantly revising this."


"And the technology question is huge, in terms of technology transfer, in terms of making sure that countries have the technology they need, making sure that we’re facilitating a flow of technology as opposed to blocking it. And also creating innovation," Klinsky said. "So, there’s a tension, always, between spreading technology around freely and creating incentives to innovate. We have to somehow find a balance there where companies think they can make some money by innovating, and yet those technologies are freely available to development countries. So we’re not going to solve that one this time around. What we probably will do is continue the support for thinking about how we’re going to deal with technology in the future."