Candidly Kind is a design company run by Grace Key, a young adult with Down Syndrome. The company is full of gorgeous designs, inspirational apparel, and a smiling CEO. The company donates many of their proceeds to various organizations such as Sibley Heart Center, where Grace has received a great amount of care. Grace is a woman of many talents including writing, art, public speaking, and makeup! Carrie Key, Grace’s mother and business partner, sat down and talked about Candidly Kind.
Carrie, what is your involvement in the company?
“Grace calls me her business partner and that’s a good description of my role. I help Grace with whatever she may need including inventory, orders, advice and guidance. I support her. I oversee orders of shirts, talking with our suppliers, and ordering correct quantities of shipping materials. We do tag team a lot. When it gets really busy, she spends so much time writing thank you notes and I pick up slack with order processing which she does too. I never write a thank you. She does all those…by hand. And she loves it!”
Is Grace the sole artist of the company?
“Grace is the only artist. She decides what she wants to paint, searches for ideas, sketches designs and paints them. Sometimes she asks my opinion on colors and designs. Her designs sometimes start with a phrase and she picks the design based on the phrase. More often she will paint something and then pair one of her “Grace phrases” with the painting. But yes, she is the only artist.”
Tell me a little about Grace! (As much as you are willing to share!)
“Grace is 21 years old and graduated high school in 2018 (Calhoun High School, Calhoun, GA) Grace came out talking and hasn’t stopped in 21 years. She was born with a congenital heart defect and had open heart surgery at 6 months old. It is the main reason we chose Sibley Heart Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as Candidly Kind’s most recent charitable donation (March 26). She is still a patient there.
Grace has been very active throughout her life. She was a varsity football cheerleader and on the varsity swim team in high school. She attained 3 varsity letters of which we are very proud. Grace is an avid swimmer and continues to swim on a Special Olympics team competing at the Georgia State games every year at Emory University in Atlanta.
Grace has been modeling regularly for several retail stores over the last 2-3 years. She has also done some regional runway shows as a model. She is currently pursuing more modeling and entertainment work in her free time. Makeup is one of Grace’s favorite things and she is an expert! She has been doing her own makeup since 6th grade and loves it! You can check out some clips on her candidly kind Instagram and Facebook pages.
Grace is an ambassador for Best Buddies International where she was nominated for their Champion of the year 2018. Best Buddies is an amazing nonprofit who works to improve the lives of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Grace was also chosen as the Down syndrome Association of Atlanta’s Buddy of the Year 2018. She is a self-advocate as well as a business owner. She is beginning to give speeches about her business and as an advocate for the exceptionally abled community.
Grace is also an avid writer. She writes everyday including notes, letters, philosophies, and phrases. All of her friends and family have received a special letter from Grace.
Grace continues to study with a private math teacher and stays healthy by swimming, working out with a trainer and walking 3-4 days a week. She is an amazing friend and keeps us all smiling and laughing. We have often been told Grace should have her own reality tv show. She’s just that entertaining. She’s also authentic to the core. What you see is what you get with Grace. We take pride in keeping everything in her social media pages authentically Grace.”
When did the company start and how did it get started?
“Candidly kind started March 21, 2018. It was Grace’s senior year and we were visiting schools and trying to decide the next step for her. Being honest, the job opportunities in our area for people with disabilities is not good. Employers just aren’t educated as to the benefits of hiring people like Grace. She has so much talent and so much to give. Grace had also gone through a time during her junior and senior years where she was not being accepted and included. It was very difficult for her and our family. It’s a long story involving a coach who did not want to include Grace. The story went viral and overwhelmingly Grace had the support of the entire world, but it was no fun to go through. Mentally, Grace and our family, was torn apart. The idea for Grace to start candidly kind literally came to me on a very trying and emotional day during that time. When I spoke with Grace about the idea she was so excited and ready to get started immediately. Her first design, “be the light” came out March 21 last year (World Down Syndrome Day). We wanted to honor all people living with Down Syndrome and also raise awareness and show the world anything is possible if you have a dream, desire, support and people who believe in you!”
What was the goal for the company when it was first started? What are some of the goals now (if they have changed)?
“The primary goal and vision since the beginning has been to spread light, love and acceptance through Grace’s art and phrases. It has always been the goal to give back to others and organizations who share our vision. It’s a huge part of what candidly kind is all about. Candidly kind has given to organizations big and small. Some include Ruby’s Rainbow who awards college scholarships to people with Down syndrome, Best Buddies International, Special Olympics, the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for Sibley Heart Center, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the National Down Syndrome Association, Boy’s and Girl’s Club, Ucancervive, Gigi’s Playhouse Sacramento, West Texas Rehabilitation, Marley’s Socks, and many others.”
What are each of your favorite designs on the website?
“My favorite is “be the light” because it typifies Grace. She is a light to everyone who knows her personally and everyone who has gotten to know her virtually through social media. She just shines.
Grace loves them all, but she particularly loves “Don’t be dramanatic…blah blah blah”. Grace dislikes drama and will let anyone know immediately to stop it. Dramanatic is also her word. She started saying it several years ago instead of dramatic. Now everyone we know near and far uses that phrase. So, of course it just had to be on a shirt! She also loves “go with the flow” with her hippie VW bus inspired painting. She wears that one a lot. When I asked her, she said ‘it’s hard to pick mom. I like them all’ and then she went on to pick these 2!”
What have you learned from working with Grace on this company?
“I have learned (which I already knew to some extent) that Grace is capable of anything. I’ve learned she is a hard worker. She makes work fun. Well she makes anything she does fun. I’ve learned that businesses like Candidly Kind are important and needed in this world. So many people want and need what she has to offer. I’ve realized that giving back is the very best part. I’ve learned that Grace’s voice matters now more than ever in helping to prove to the world that every life has value and purpose and meaning.”
Is there anything specific that you would like to promote or share with our community?
“This company is only for Grace. All of the proceeds go towards donations or for benefiting Grace and her future. The reward of this company is giving back and knowing that Grace will have a little extra one day when my husband and I aren’t here.”
Do you do custom artwork or just the designs that are already on the website?
“Grace does offer custom artwork. There a link for information on the website. She will customize a painting or do a painting similar to one of her designs.”
How did Grace become so great at art and design? Was it natural, a lot of practice, or did she have an art instructor of some sort?
“Grace did have some instruction at the high school level. But other than that she is basically is self-taught. She will decide what she wants to paint, look at pictures and get ideas from those. For instance, on a recent painting she did of a high heel pump, she looked at pictures online and found the look she wanted, then sketched it and then painted it with an animal print design. She learns from looking at pictures. Grace has an incredibly steady hand. She has improved with much practice but has had very little training. I really enjoy watching her paint. I love the simplicity of her work; the beauty is in its simplicity.
What is Grace’s favorite thing to draw?
“I would say the sun because she has done several paintings of the sun. But her favorite thing of all are hearts. She uses hearts everywhere. She dots all her I’s with hearts, designed the 3-heart red logo and ends ever letter she writes with hearts. When she writes or when she paints, there are always hearts. How fitting is that?!”
Candidly Kind is such a fun company. You can check out the apparel on their website. You are bound to find one that is perfect for you! With the proceeds going to great organizations as well as a hard-working individual, what better reason than to have your next purchase there?
Social Media Intern
Emma is a student-athlete at Purdue University majoring in Kinesiology and on the cross country and track and field teams. She has been involved in the special needs community for many years as a coach with Special Olympics Minnesota, and as a personal care assistant/respite sitter. She has worked in media, marketing, and journalism with various organizations. When Emma has some free time, she enjoys riding horses (she grew up doing barrel racing), baking doughnuts and cake pops (yum!), pursuing her new art interest (wood burning, painting, or drawing), or going for a long run in sunny weather (her favorite!).