We recently spent a cozy afternoon downtown with Caitlin Crosby, founder of The Giving Keys, and Brit Moore, company president. The Giving Keys’ easily recognizable pendant necklaces are made from up-cycled keys printed with messages like “let go,” “courage,” “dream,” and “fearless.” Each piece is created here in their DTLA headquarters by The Giving Keys staff, most of whom are transitioning from homelessness back into the workforce.

When we met with Caitlin and Brit, these two fashion entrepreneurs were dressed like most Arts District creatives, from booties to boleros – their urban, warehouse-style office similar to most of the brands we know in the area. The difference, however, between this office space and most of their stylish neighbors is the vibe inside. The Giving Keys HQ is full of all the energy and inspiration famously engraved on their pendants – and is flying around the room faster than the keys and chains beings being packed up for shipment. Most of that energy comes from Caitlin herself as she meets with various members of the team, most of which are entering a new, hopeful phase of life as they begin work with TGK. The sense of forward-moving energy is palpable.

We asked Caitlin and Brit to tell us The Giving Keys story and to share with us a little bit about life inside their energetic offices…

The Chalkboard Mag: The Giving Keys jewelry has a raw, urban feel we love. How did you get started with it and end up sticking to just the keys?

Caitlin Crosby: It all started with a New York hotel room key. I was on tour with my record, Flawz, and the hotel I was staying at had a real key as the room key. I threw it on my necklace and fell in love with the way it looked. Fast forward to me being at a locksmith one day and I saw someone get a key stamped with numbers and I asked the locksmith if he could stamp them with words – I got a whole bunch made with different inspirational words. I started selling them on tour and people starting sharing stories of how they gave them away to people who were struggling with all kinds of things like suicidal thoughts, cancer, break ups, job loss — it was really powerful and totally took me by surprise that these keys were doing such amazing things in people’s lives. We love the symbolism of the keys — everyone has the power to unlock potential.

TCM: Let’s talk about how the charitable aspect came into play…

CC: One day I was on Hollywood Boulevard and saw this homeless couple sitting under an umbrella with a sign that said ‘Ugly, Broke and Hungry’ and I offered to take them to dinner. We swapped stories and about two hours in, I complimented the girl’s necklace and she told me that had made it. I had this aha moment and knew I should ask them to be a part of The Giving Keys. They started making all the jewelry and little by little got out of the dumpster they were living in and into a hotel and then into an apartment and now they’ve moved on to the next step. One of them is going to college in Seattle and the other one is in San Diego working at the zoo.

TCM: And today how many Chrysalis and other transitional employees work at The Giving Keys?

CC: So now we’re working with Chrysalis – a non-profit that works with low-income and homeless individuals to get on a pathway to self sufficiency through employment. We’ve worked with other community partners as well, Downtown Women’s Center, PATH and LIFT. We’ve helped 22 people get housed and are continuing to add to our team consistently.

TCM: Do you have a favorite it #payitforward story about one key being passed on to someone else?

CC: There was a woman who had cancer, her daughter gave her a STRENGTH key and she eventually went into remission and passed it along to another woman in the cancer ward and that woman went into remission and passed it on to another woman. It ended up getting paid forward four times and each person went into remission. It’s a beautiful thing to see the power of words in people’s lives.

TCM: TGK is in over 1,200 stores now – congratulations. Was there a store you were most thrilled to see a key in?

CC: Hard to say just one! Kitson was really exciting for us because it was our first chain retailer and just a really cool store that anyone is lucky to be in. Kitson made us feel like we grew up overnight. Nordstrom was another huge moment for us and we’ve loved working with them to spread The Giving Keys story throughout the Midwest and East Coast – territories where we didn’t have as many roots planted. And we were unbelievably thrilled about getting into Colette in Paris, such a cool store! It was like the day in high school when the guy you’ve had a crush on forever asks you out. You feel amazing!

TCM: Favorite team tradition:

CC: Every time one of our team members graduates the Chrysalis program and becomes permanent staff on The Giving Keys payroll, Chrysalis hosts a bell-ringing ceremony that our whole team attends. We celebrate, people cry and the graduate delivers a speech in front their family, friends and colleagues. It’s a moment honoring the investments they’ve made to get this far, and the future successes they will see as they move into permanent employment. It’s the very reason we do what we do.

TCM: Your office soundtrack:

CC: We listen to a little of everything. ’90s R&B gets a lot of play; we had D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ on repeat when it first came out. Everything from Matt Corby to Carrie Underwood to The Temptations. It’s cool to see everyone bring their musical flavor into the office and have a lot of different influences.

TCM: What keys are you most often wearing yourself?

CC: My two favorites are our XL Rebel that I love to wrap twice, it’s our thicker, trendier chain. And I always love the Precious Metals snake chain in any of the four colors, gold, silver, rose gold and our newest, black rhodium. They’re so elegant and sparkly. I wear all kinds of words but really love HOPE because it reminds me of the work we get to do everyday – giving people second, third and fourth chances, renewing their hope and reminding them that there’s always more out there for them.

TCM: Biggest lesson you’re learned from one another:

BRIT MOORE: I came into The Giving Keys almost three years ago now, when we had three employees and about 60 stores — we’re now a team of 48 and have over 2,000 stores. It’s been an absolute dream/blast/whirlwind watching this thing grow and take off and to learn from Caitlin’s visionary heart. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from Caitlin is to not let moments of inspiration pass you by. She took the most normal things – a brief interaction, a forgotten object – and turned them into something extraordinary. There is need and opportunity all around, we just have to look for it and live in the realm of potential.

TCM: Go-to lunch spot in The Arts District:

CC: We love them all! Cerveteca and Pie Hole are two that we go to all the time. Pie Hole has this amazing honey lavender latte that our team is obsessed with.

TCM: Tell us about this puppy!

CC:Teddy is a Maltipoo but we’re not really sure about that actually because the lady we got him from maybe lied to us… but whatever, he’s still the cutest! My husband and I wanted to get a dog as a next step towards having kids. We are in love and were seriously sleep deprived for the first few weeks so dog ownership seems to be serving its intended purpose.

TCM: Your current motto:

CC: We’re all about spreading hope and inspiring others. That’s at the heart of all we do, everyday.

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