We had the good fortune of connecting with Kay McDonald and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kay, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I have always wanted to save the world. Injustice, inequality, poverty, and cruelty to people and animals have always upset me and it’s hard for me to watch the news and sleep. Not being a trust fund baby. I knew in my heart I needed to devote my life to helping others, and a path developed that provided a way to make a difference in the world. Here is my story. My father was in the Air Force and I was blessed to see a good part of the world before I was a teenager. We lived in Italy and Greece and took trips throughout the middle east. All countries have a modicum of poverty and injustice, but my eyes were opened early. I realized how lucky I was always having food, clothing, and a roof over my head. Throughout my journeys, I experienced the plight of underprivileged people begging on the streets. I didn’t see that in America, so it really rattled my soul. While most American kids were going to football games and playing in the band, I was volunteering at homeless shelters and trying to figure out how to solve world hunger. My plan was to join the Peace Corps to make a difference. The universe had other plans. When I was going to college at Colorado State University, my parents announced they were moving to Rome, Italy…Dad had a job with NATO. My wanderlust took over and I took a hiatus from school for a new adventure. Living in Italy ignited a passion for fashion that I have to this day. The Italian culture thrives on beauty and design and I soaked it all in. While I was living in Rome I loved going to the flea market in Trastevere….there you could find charms, trinkets, fabrics, vintage clothing, and intricate décor from all over the world. I started building an interesting jewelry wardrobe…each piece handmade, each with a story. One day while reading Vogue magazine and living in Rome I came across an ad for the Paris American Academy. It was a privately run 6-week fashion course for Americans interested in the Fashion Industry. It was the chance of a lifetime. They provided us with an apartment and in-depth fashion sessions meeting famous designers like Sonia Rykiel, Kenzo, and Yves St. Laurent. Truly a life experience I will never forget and one that made a big impact on my career direction. In my twenties, as a Department Store Buyer, I went to Asia as part of a convoy to develop private label clothing lines. We traveled to Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and most of the time we were escorted by agents who showed us the “edited” parts of the cultures. But driving to and from our destinations I saw a family of five on one motorbike, disabled people parked on the curb begging for food or money, and extreme poverty in the outlying villages. It made me feel so grateful for all that I had. While working in product development I found a true love for sourcing and merchandising and working with people from other countries. I bought a charm as a memento, and a Chinese symbol for Gratitude. I left the department store world to work for a clothing wholesaler that made their goods in India. I had always wanted to go to India, inspired by my adulation for Cat Stevens as a teenager. The thought of uprooting your life to follow a spiritual path…seemed oh so selfless and glamorous. I went to India as Vice President of Marketing for the Indian clothing company. I traveled to Paris and Italy for style and design inspiration. Of course, I bought a charm on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence as a memento – it was a Florentine shoe. Then, on to Delhi to work with the Indian people to bring the inspirations to life for the medium markets (like JC Penney). India was a land of wonder and beauty, I relished walking in the markets, smelling and seeing all the spices and beautiful fabrics…and the jewelry was divine. On that trip I started collecting all kinds of jewelry and accessories and developed a lifelong love of intricate, handcrafted work.. The downside of my trip to India was experiencing the most extreme poverty I had ever seen. Small children would come up to my car begging and I immediately rolled down the window and gave them money. My driver got very angry and explained that by doing that it created a bad precedent for the child and encouraged his family to keep him in this vicious circle. I was so mortified. How could this happen? How could people be so cruel? How could there be a caste system with people called Untouchables? It broke my heart. Another heartbreak was learning about the horrific practice of men setting women on fire for “shaming them”. It was unfathomable and left a deep impression on me for injustices women face all over the world. Throughout my stay in India, I took copious photos of many things. I Found beauty everywhere…from the intricately designed buildings, the hand-carved woodblocks used to make fabric designs, the brilliantly colored saris of the Indian women, and so much more. It is truly a country of great contrasts from extreme poverty and extreme wealth. Again, this experience opened my eyes to how lucky I was and ignited the concept that it was my social responsibility to use my talents to make a difference.
What should our readers know about your business?
I started Charity Charms in 2004 and have worked with over 500 organizations worldwide. Our unique niche concept is that we turn the icon in their logo into a 3D work of art ….that everyone will want to wear to show their support. Charity Charms have been used as a vehicle for non-profits and organizations of all types to creatively brand, fundraise, and engage with their community. We began this journey as a way to meet the growing demand for socially conscious brands. Being socially conscious has grown into an international movement founded on collaboration, giving, and awareness. Our mission is to empower organizations and their supporters, employees, and customers through symbolic pieces that bring their important work to life. Charms have the power to tell a story, connect people in a meaningful way, and build a legacy of love. I launched this concept before the words “Cause Jewelry” and “Charity Bracelets” were ever imagined. Being a maverick and first to market can be big challenge, Finding the first adopters can also be a challenge. To launch the concept I was lucky to find an open minded executive director, Cheryl Naumann from the Arizona Humane Society and 3 generous friends who all chipped in to underwrite the costs. The program ended up raising over $150,000 for the organization and was the proof of concept needed for others to embrace it.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite evening is to go “Hopping” around Lincoln drive to El Chorro for Fried Lobster bits and a beautiful view, then on to Rita’s Kitchen for great ambiance and music, next is Prado at Montelucia for an international taste, then ending up at the iconic LONS at the Hermosa Inn. It’s the upscale “Taste of Arizona” tour I give my friends and is especially wonderful during the holidays when all the lights and decorations are up.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I love to read and a friend recommended the book “The One Minute Millionaire” by Mark Victor Hansen and Robert Allen. I was trying to figure out how to blend my passion for fashion with my compassion and this book laid it out for me. Their motto: “Do no harm, do much good and operate out of stewardship.” Both men contribute 10 percent of their earnings to their communities and want to inspire the same spirit in future millionaires. “Enlightened millionaires” not only build wealth but also make the world a better place. NOTE: The “Millionaire” part has eluded me thus far (at least financially), but the giveback aspect of doing business inspired the Charity Charms concept and I think has laid the groundwork that has created a whole new culture of Social Entrepreneurs.
FUN FACT: Mark Victor Hansen married my friend Crystal Dwyer and they have just co-written a new book called ASK.
Reading it now and getting re-inspired daily.
Jean Laninga Photography
Nominate someone: ShoutoutArizona is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.