Southern charmer Grace Key, an artist with Down syndrome, took her love of painting, turned it into a thriving business, and, in the process, turned herself into an influencer for brands like FabFitFun and Urban Decay.
“Grace phrases” are any of the many inspirational sayings that can spring forth from the highly talented, highly entertaining being that is Grace Key, a Georgia creator with Down syndrome whose company, Candidly Kind, is crushing it on social media. Like Grace, the sayings can be sassy or sweet—but they’re always about being kind. We borrowed a few of our favorite Grace phrases to help us tell the story of this amazing woman.
Don’t Be “Dramanatic”
The South is no stranger to cheerleader drama. Grace’s high school squad made her an honorary member, but when the cheer coach decided not to let her on the field during the game … let’s just say things got controversial, y’all.
The one thing you need to know off the bat about Grace Key is that everybody loves her. The injustice and arbitrary cruelty of her exclusion did not sit well with a lot of people. Within a few days, an online petition to let her on the field with the rest of the squad reached 5,000 signatures – a number roughly equal to 1/3 of the population of the town. The school system responded quickly, apologized and made amends by including Grace in all the cheerleading activities.
The experience, though painful, proved to be the catalyst that would launch Grace from the cheerleading squad to the squad of influencers representing Urban Decay cosmetics.
Be the Light
“I was going through a really hard time with that situation we were dealing with,” says Carrie, Grace’s mom. “And I wanted to show her abilities, her talents. This idea came to me because Grace had always been good at art. The talent with makeup goes hand in hand with art, and it hit me out of the blue … I talked with Grace about the idea of starting her own design business.”
“Go for it,” Grace says. “My art teacher, Robin Profitt, helped me with my first design, called Be the Light. It was a lightbulb.”
Grace created the design, which features three lightbulbs, while she was a senior in high school. That same year, Carrie filmed Grace in her other passion—putting on makeup—and put the short videos on Instagram, which attracted followers without any promotion at all.
Candidly Kind, a brand that represents who Grace is and also what she puts into the world, was born. They printed up a few hundred Be the Light t-shirts, merged the make-up videos with the brand, and launched the company on March 21, 2018: World Down Syndrome Day.
“The name Candidly Kind describes me and my personality,” says Grace. “I’m always kind.”
In the first week, Candidly Kind received its first 40 orders, the Instagram account started gaining traction. Eventually, Grace’s make-up videos and promo spots for Candidly Kind attracted the attention of Urban Decay cosmetics. The makeup giants nabbed Grace as a brand influencer, and she went on tour with Urban Decay to promote their products, which had always been her favorite. In time, her social media caught the eye of FabFitFun, and the company featured Grace in their Fall 2020 commercial.
“The name Candidly Kind describes me and my personality. I’m always kind.”
Since the launch of Candidly Kind in 2018, Grace has painted about 20 different designs that adorn hoodies, tote bags, onesies, knit dresses and sticker sets in addition to her now-famous t-shirts. Be the Light remains her best seller. In 2020, she created a Let Peace Begin with Me Face Mask, donating 100% of all face masks profits to people affected by COVID-19.
“I’m living the dream,” says Grace.
“Sometimes I stay up all night writing my thank-you notes,” Grace says. “I had one hundred and five letters to write!”
Living the Dream
With each Candidly Kind order, Grace includes a handwritten letter. Her appreciation is real; her inner light is real; her deep desire to continue working as an entrepreneur and an artist is also real. When Grace saw the success possible with Candidly Kind, she began taking bi-monthly classes in advocacy training so that she could be the best advocate for people with disabilities that she could be.
Part of this advocacy work involves educating people about the need for economic freedom for people with Down syndrome. As she said in a speech to the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta: “We want to work and support ourselves. Many people with Down syndrome are paid extremely low wages. We are worthy. We work hard, and we are dependable. We deserve to make the same as everyone else.”
Her modeling, social influencing, designing, and public appearances are all part of her advocacy work and the mission of Candidly Kind “to spread light, love and acceptance.” The company always donates a portion of their profits to charities, many of which support and empower people with disabilities. “All the advocacy adds up to change,” says Carrie, Grace’s mother. “I’m thankful to businesses that want to include. Inclusion is an asset.”
Or, as Grace says: “Be the love!”
We Include is so proud to stand with Grace Key, who promotes kindness and believing in yourself while also showing that people of all abilities can achieve a life of their dreams with a simple Heck Yeah. The world will change because of people like Grace Key, who is teaching us all the power of being candidly kind.