Paying It Forward

The Giving Keys doesn’t just design stylish jewelry—the LA-based company employs individuals who are transitioning out of homelessness.



The idea for The Giving Keys began to form when singer-songwriter Caitlin Crosby was on tour with for her record. The hotel she was staying at had a metal key (as opposed to a modern key card) as the room key. To ensure the key wouldn’t be lost, Crosby spontaneously added it to her necklace chain, admiring how the stylish “DIY” accessory looked. Then, Crosby discovered that with the help of a locksmith, she could have the keys engraved with numbers or letters.


Like The Giving Keys current day jewelry line, Crosby’s original keys had an uplifting, inspirational word engraved such as love, believe, strength, courage or faith—designed to have a special personal meaning to the wearer. The deeper meaning behind the messages is that “although you may feel broken or discarded, like these keys, you should embrace your individuality and rare beauty.” The mission of paying it forward comes full circle as wearers are encouraged to “gift” the keys to someone they meet who appears to need the key’s message more.


In true entrepreneurial spirit, Crosby decided to start selling them at her merch table while on tour. The keys began to sell out at Crosby’s concerts and started a ripple effect with thousands sharing on her website the profound effect the keys’ messages had on them. As Crosby explains on, “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.”


However, at the point Crosby was hesitant about what the next step for her business should be, which at the time was still operating on a much smaller scale. In her TEDTalk, Crosby recalls being frustrated and confused. “I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard, leaving church, and I was crying. ‘What is the meaning of life? What is the point of all this? I’m bursting with this, I want to help and change the world but what can I do. I don’t know.’”


Fate intervened when Crosby saw a homeless couple on Hollywood Boulevard holding up a tongue in cheek sign that read “ugly, broke and hungry,” she became curious and invited them to have a meal with her to learn more about their story and how they ended up on the streets. While talking with the couple at a local eatery, Rob and Cera (who were currently living in a dumpster), Crosby noticed the woman’s jewelry. Cera, replied that she made it herself and liked to make jewelry. At that moment, Crosby had a self-described “aha moment” and asked if they’d be interested in joining her as business partners. They said yes.


The pieces fell into place as the Giving Keys quickly took off after the line was first picked up by iconic retailer Fred Segal, propelling the LA-based brand into the limelight. The original key necklaces are still a popular pick but the brand has branched off to include a few other dainty details, including bracelets and earrings—while still retaining the key motif. The jewelry is currently sold at over 1,200 stores (including Nordstrom), both throughout the U.S. and internationally.


In the true spirit of community and providing hope, The Giving Keys employs individuals who are transitioning out of homelessness. The company partners with local organization including Los Angeles County nonprofit Chrysalis (among a network of other community partners including United Way, Downtown Women’s Center, PATH and LIFT), which was created to help form pathways to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals—a “help out” rather than a handout. Those who qualify for the transitional program receive training that will enable them to become permanent staff members, along with the opportunity to rise within the company’s ranks.


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