Dream, Create, & Inspire: Interview With Brit Gilmore, President Of The Giving Keys

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Meet Brit Gilmore, President Of The Giving Keys

Being hired by a friend into a position that perfectly blends your two passions - in this case fashion and philanthropy - is anyone’s dream come true. This is that story. Brit Gilmore was hired by The Giving Keys in 2012 as a production manager. Five years later, she is president of the social enterprise and was most recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list. We recently had the chance to sit down with Brit, learn more about the business model, how she cultivates an enticing workplace culture, and the skills she’s honed to find both balance and success.

The Giving Keys employs individuals transitioning out of homelessness to create beautiful and inspiring jewelry. Tell us more about The Giving Keys unique social model.

The Giving Keys hopes to inspire the world to pay it forward so we’ve intentionally built that belief into how we do business. Our Pay It Forward mission is twofold. Each of our products are stamped with an inspirational word like DREAM, CREATE or INSPIRE. We encourage everyone to embrace the word, and someday pay it forward by giving their product to a person who needs the message. 

Furthermore, every product that is purchased supports job creation and to date, The Giving Keys has provided 70+ job opportunities to people transitioning out of homelessness. These jobs include stamping keys, assembling jewelry, customer service, packing and fulfilling orders and working in our shop to produce in-store displays. These staff members get referred to us by our non-profit partner, Chrysalis, and work with us for 3-6 months in a temporary position. Those who are demonstrating commitment to their job and personal growth “graduate” into full-time, permanent Giving Keys team members.

Chrysalis is dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals by providing the resources and support needed to find and retain employment. It has been hugely beneficial for The Giving Keys to find a partner that provides the job training and case management support that our staff can lean on to overcome other barriers in their lives. The network of service providers we have established provides holistic support to create transformational outcomes in a shorter period of time. 

What inspired you to join The Giving Keys team and how has your life been transformed by that decision?

My journey to this company was marked by an exceptional amount of serendipity. I credit a lot of this to Caitlin Crosby (our founder) and the spirit with which she operates.

I first met Caitlin through mutual friends and we would often run into each other at social events. As we became friends, we would talk about The Giving Keys and Caitlin came to me with questions at a few different points because I worked in the fashion industry. I loved what she was doing and truly believed in the company. Ever since I was 18, I always knew that I was going to do something that fused fashion and philanthropy. In August 2012, I got a text from Caitlin that she needed to hire a new Production Manager, and was asking around for recommendations. I was working as a buyer for a fashion website at the time but literally the same day Caitlin sent that text, my employer laid off over half of the staff (I made it through the layoffs but knew it was a sinking ship). I started at The Giving Keys a week later. 

Being at The Giving Keys has completely transformed my view of homelessness. I grew up with a mentality that was much more charity driven - you gave your time and money as a temporary solution to an immediate need without addressing the systemic problem. The Giving Keys has expanded my view of what it can look like to actually bring change around these issues. Empowering people to take their life back and facilitating opportunities for them to do so can have a truly sustainable impact. We take the time to create relationships with people, to understand their experiences; we stay with them in what they’re experiencing until their life is changed. Providing jobs will change one person’s life, which will change their family’s life and that ripple effect will ultimately impact a community. That is the kind of impact I want to have and that is why I wholeheartedly believe in what we are doing at The Giving Keys.

Empowering people to take their life back and facilitating opportunities for them to do so can have a truly sustainable impact.
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It’s clear you have always had a passion for philanthropy and you had professional experience in the fashion industry. What does a day in the life as the President of The Giving Keys look like now that you’re combining those interests? How do you continue to build on and leverage that expertise to build the business?

A day in the life looks like me trying (key word, trying) to stay committed to my morning routine which is waking up between 5:30 and 6, going to the gym, mediating in my car for 10 minutes before I walk into the gym and writing down my top 3-5 priorities for the day before I leave the gym. I didn’t use to do any of those things in the morning, for about 3 years the first thing I did every morning was check my email - terrible! I love what I do so much and I care about it a lot, but it’s easy to let it take over. To be able to sustain in the role that I’m in, I have to have morning rituals and stay healthy. 

I oversee our leadership team of eight people who oversee the rest of our team of 70. I spend most of my day connecting with the leadership team talking about strategic decisions in all aspects of the business ranging from product development, digital strategy, wholesale distribution, and marketing campaigns, to staffing and financial analysis. My work weeks vary depending on the priorities within the organization. One week may be all about developing a financial model for a new initiative like launching our own retail and another week may be focused on interviewing candidates for a new position. My favorite part of the day is walking through the office in between meetings and connecting with our production staff to hear about what is happening in their lives. To hear from someone that they are going apartment hunting or got reconnected with their children, how can that not be the best part of your day?

Recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30, what are some of the skills and habits that have been integral to your success? 

I truly look at it as The Giving Keys’ success. I have a courtside seat to the massive team effort that drives this company forward. I believe the best way to lead is to lean into the skills and strengths of your team. It is imperative to give them the space to run with new ideas and when you intentionally allow for that space, you’re allowing your company mission, vision, and impact to expand rather than stifling it by hanging on too tight to let ideas flow and be tested. 

I believe a big part of success in business is fighting to stay connected to the mission and vision of your company. To so wholeheartedly believe in the vision that you choose to show up every day in the midst of the highs and lows.

Grit and tenacity are so important. I believe a big part of success in business is fighting to stay connected to the mission and vision of your company. To so wholeheartedly believe in the vision that you choose to show up every day in the midst of the highs and lows. Tenacity is determination on steroids, it means always coming to the table believing there is a solution for everything. Beyond grit and tenacity there is curiosity. I want to know why something doesn’t work, I want to know how it can be better, and how other people are doing it successfully. I am continually reading and researching to continue to expand my understanding. I also think it is a powerful skill to be able to maintain calm in the midst of frustrating, scary or hard things. That will always result in a better, simpler solution with a more positive impact on the team.

The social impact industry is evolving so quickly! What consumer trends have you noticed and what do you project going forward?

It has been wonderful to see the evolution and expansion of the social impact industry throughout the past few years. I truly hope that this is becoming the standard and expectation for businesses. I hope that transparency in supply chain and a commitment to solving social issues through a for-profit business model becomes the expectation rather than the exception. Consumers truly drive this change by how they use their dollars, and more and more we are seeing consumers passionate about ensuring their dollars are having a true impact.

The social values you’ve built into the impact are reflected back for your employees. Give us a peek into the culture you’re cultivating within your team and how it has influenced profitability and productivity within the business. 

We couldn’t do what we are doing if we aren’t investing in the culture of our team! The culture that we create is one that accepts people right where they’re at, but lovingly does not allow them to stay there. Inspiring people to dream their best life and live in a way that creates that reality. We have established two resources that we use to cultivate our culture. The first of these resources is our Core Values - dream, create, and inspire. We reference these values continually and infuse them into everything that we do. We also have The Giving Keys Way, which is a list of 10 standards that we hold ourselves to as a culture and are constantly striving for. It ranges from uniting around our mission to pay it forward, to keeping our commitments, taking ownership, investing in each other, etc. All of these things empower people to be their best self and do their best work.

The culture that we create is one that accepts people right where they’re at, but lovingly does not allow them to stay there. Inspiring people to dream their best life and live in a way that creates that reality.

My absolute favorite part of our culture is that we are all one team under one roof. It’s not that common for manufacturing and administration to be in the same space, but we do it on purpose to keep those teams together, learning from one another and having relationships with one another. In this way, everyone is experiencing both elements of our mission firsthand - our employment model and our Pay It Forward movement that happens with our customers through our sales and marketing channels.