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

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

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.”

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