Being the light: Calhoun resident brings hope to others through t-shirt business Candidly Kind

Being the Light- Grace Key in the first t-shirt she created for her business, Candidly Kind. 

Grace Key expands brand, nominated for Champion of the Year for Best Buddies

Grace Key is a talented artist who enjoys painting and giving back to the community. The recent Calhoun High graduate, along with her mom, Carrie, decided to turn some of her favorite activities: writing and painting into Candidly Kind, a store that sells t-shirts, hats and other items featuring Grace’s creations.

Grace’s goal has always been about spreading a message of light and love. Born in 1998 with Down syndrome, Grace has never let the condition stop her, participating in cheerleading and a lot of social activities in high school.

Carrie said that the idea for t-shirts came after observing Grace over the last few years.

“It’s just funny things she loves to say to people and she loves to write,” said Carrie. “Anybody that knows Grace knows this. She loves to write letters, draw and paint. So it just hit me that she should do something like [this business]. So I talked to her about it and she was all for it.”

Taking the “Graceisms” and a painting, the duo produced the first shirt through Candidly Kind in March of this year. Grace’s first tee featured a light bulb painting that she had completed with the caption, “Be the Light.”

“We ended up putting a make-shift studio in our basement,” said Carrie. “There’s a table where she paints and all of her paintings are stored there. So, whenever she wants to paint, she goes to her studio. The first t-shirt idea, Grace went online and researched light bulbs and picked one she liked. Then, I reached out to Robin Profitt; Grace took her pictures to Robin and Robin helped her with her first painting,” said Carrie. “Grace did that painting in the fall of 2017 but the t-shirts didn’t come to fruition until March, when we released them on World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. We released them for pre-order at that time.”

During the time since the first release, business has boomed for Grace and Candidly Kind. Her second t-shirt release is affectionately known as “Lemonade,” with a glass of lemonade that Grace painted with the caption, “I made lemonade.”

“We’ve shipped across the country and internationally,” said Carrie. And the “Lemonade” painting was so popular that it was purchased by someone in Ohio.

The duo expects the next t-shirt to be released later this month, but in the meantime have released Candidly Kind logo merchandise including t-shirts and caps that are already in the works.

The business has caught the attention of many world-wide. Grace recently sat down with a Chattanooga, Tenn. news station for an interview and now looks forward to a feature to be produced out of Europe.

“We have been communicating with Barcroft Media out of the UK for them to do a feature on Grace and Candidly Kind,” said Carrie. “They contacted us after seeing the Candidly Kind Instagram page . Barcroft Media is an international media agency based in London. They produce short form documentaries for distribution to global news outlets. They specialize in real-life stories and cover a wide-range of subjects with contributors across the world. The feature will initially be shared on their YouTube channel Barcroft TV - which currently has 5 million subscribers - and then they will share it with global news outlets. We have done a written interview with them and are set for a phone interview soon. They will then hire a local videographer and come to our home and do the footage and on-film interviews for the story.”

In addition to online sales, the t-shirts are also selling at a few local retail establishments.

“We are really blessed with the support,” said Carrie. “RAK supports Grace and puts the t-shirts in their stores; then the other boutiques, Rusty Zipper (in Calhoun) and Whistle Britches carry them. It’s nice that they’re out there in retail stores.”

The business is a true family affair. Tanna Key, Grace’s oldest sister, built the website candidlykind.com, and Grace’s father, Dan, and sister, Kara, have also had input in the business. As far as the day-to-day and shipping, Grace and Carrie handle those duties.

“So far, Grace includes a note with every order,” said Carrie. “She knows all the ins-and-outs of printing the labels. As a matter of fact, she went into the bank the other day and took her (business) deposit inside and made it.”

The best part of the business for the mother and daughter is the ability to pay it forward.

“To be able to send money to organizations that embrace acceptance if a great thing,” said Carrie. “The vision of Candidly Kind is to spread Light, Love and Acceptance. A percentage of profits from the first t-shirts went to Ruby’s Rainbow, and we are still accumulating profits for them. Ruby’s Rainbow gives scholarships to people with Down Syndrome. In just over three years, they have given more than $600,000 in scholarships to people with Down Syndrome to be able to attend college programs. Grace is now saying she wants to go to college, so we may apply to a couple this coming year. I just have a lot of respect for Ruby’s Rainbow. For the second t-shirt donation, we researched organizations that try to combat bullying in schools and communities and we chose The Kind Campaign, which was started by two girls who went to Pepperdine together; it’s an organization that works to combat girl against girl bullying, which is a big problem.”

And just last week, Grace learned that she has been nominated for Champion of the Year for the state of Georgia for Best Buddies.

“Best Buddies is a non-profit organization, founded by Anthony Shriver in 1989, whose mission is inclusion, friendship, leadership and integrated employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Carrie of the organization that lines up perfectly with Candidly Kind. “We’re hoping to grow the business more; the goal for us is to grow to where we can employ other people with disabilities just because I know firsthand how hard it is (for those with disabilities) to find gainful employment. That would be awesome.”

“There is a gala in November at the World Congress Center in Atlanta and they will announce the Champion; Best Buddies is an amazing organization and well respected,” said Carrie.

Champion of the Year candidates are selected based on their individual, professional and philanthropic achievements. Candidates must be compassionate, socially active and passionate about making a difference in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I love being able to paint and do my t-shirts and share acceptance with my community and the world,” said Grace.

Candidly Kind can be found on Facebook and Instagram or by visiting candidlykind.com.