From Fashion Forward to Pay It Forward

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The Giving Keys opens doors to those who are homeless

Singer-songwriter Caitlin Crosby was checking out of a New York motel in 2008 when she decided not to turn in her room key.

“It was old and rusted and I immediately loved it,” she says. “So I put it on a chain and slipped it around my neck.” Back home in Los Angeles, she had the key engraved with the word “LOVE.”

Crosby got so many compliments on her new look that she set out an assortment of vintage keys, fashioned into bracelets, pendants and necklaces on the merchandise tables at her next concert. Each was engraved with a message—LOVE, HOPE, STRENGTH, COURAGE, PEACE and other gentle exhortations. The items went fast, so she continued the practice and set up an ecommerce portal. She called it “The Giving Keys.”

Then came her epiphany. On Hollywood Boulevard one rainy evening, Crosby struck up a conversation with a young homeless couple. The woman was wearing a necklace that she’d designed herself. Crosby was moved and took the couple to dinner. On impulse she suggested that they start a business together. It was a wild idea—but it worked.

The Giving Keys, now a full-scale enterprise, has grown steadily over the past decade, sourcing keys from around the world and turning them into wearable bling sold in more than 2,000 retail outlets including Nordstrom, Anthologies, and the company’s own store in downtown Los Angeles.

More importantly, The Giving Keys is driven by a mission “to help individuals transition out of homelessness through employment.” It does that by hiring homeless men and women in a variety of capacities—engraving and wirework, assembling, packaging and shipping products and anything else that needs doing. Workers are recruited and screened through partnerships with Los Angeles-area nonprofits. In addition, the company assists employees in finding housing, resuming their education and getting on with their lives. Many go on to start their own businesses, regain custody of their children, “and find a renewed sense of purpose,” Crosby says.

Omara Bautista had lived on the street, battled addiction and done jail time when she was hired by The Giving Keys as a production assistant. Within two years, the company helped her enroll in a micro-enterprise program at Pepperdine University and obtain funding to start her own residential and commercial cleaning company. The Giving Keys was her first customer. “Omara also regained custody of her children and got married,” says The Giving Keys President, Brit Moore Gilmore. “She’s doing really, really well.”

The Giving Keys brands itself as “a pay it forward” company. The idea, says Crosby, is to buy a key, “embrace the message engraved on it, then give it to someone who needs it more.”

Notwithstanding The Giving Keys’ humanistic roots, Carpenter Group notes that the company is an engine of commerce, not a charitable institution. And that is essential to the way it lives its brand.

“There’s certainly a place in the world for nonprofits,” says Gilmore. “But I also believe there are sustainable models that we can design and develop in a variety of industries that can solve social problems in a way that earns income, so that organizations that are doing really good work for the community are not dependent upon donations to survive.”


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About Brand Acts of Kindness® 

Brand Acts of Kindness® is a series from Carpenter Group that spotlights companies across industries that are living their brand values in addressing the unprecedented challenges facing the world today.

The series initially headlined companies assisting healthcare workers and first responders, as well as communities, businesses and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also highlight brands taking the lead in supporting social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights, sustainability and the environment. Their stories show how innovation, resolve and action, built on a solid value proposition, can both strengthen a brand and help create a better world.

About Carpenter Group

Carpenter Group is an independent, woman-owned strategic branding, messaging and marketing communications firm that has delivered results-driven solutions to financial, professional services and technology firms for 30+ years.

Our broad cross-discipline experience enables us to craft brand messaging and carry it through to the channels that most effectively connect with our clients’ target audience, from editorial content to advertising to event marketing and more.