When Gracie Key was in the third grade, her grandmother bought her a sewing machine. About 10 years later, Key designed and exhibited her own collection of clothing for Kansas City Fashion Week.
A junior in apparel and textiles, Key said she knew she wanted to go into fashion for a long time, but there was a key moment when she knew for sure she wanted to dedicate her life to it.
“I guess the turning point was whenever I was a junior or senior in high school, and I made my senior prom dress,” she said. “I’d decided to go into fashion design before that, but that was kind of the moment I was like, yes — that’s what I want to do in my life.”
Key said it took her a few months to complete the dress and she still has it. She said it is interesting to look at how far she has come since then. In mid-September, Key debuted an entire collection at Kansas City Fashion Week.
“I applied a few months beforehand, and then when I got the interview — I was just really excited,” she said. “Everybody there is so friendly, and they immediately accepted me, even though I’m a student. And they were accommodating in every single way possible for my situation. So, it was really neat.”
Key said she called her collection the “Kennedy Collection” and in its inspired by former first lady Jackie Kennedy.
“She made this like huge statement, she was this graceful person that people [of all ages] looked up to,” Key said. “That’s why I chose her as my inspiration.”
Key said she had already planned out some designs, but once she was accepted to present, she was given feedback and made adjustments.
“It was actually an idea that I kind of had been cultivating for a while,” she said. “Then, I was really set on it; I really loved it. That’s when I chose to apply to Kansas City Fashion Week, because I knew that I could make something great out of it and I wanted that to be my debut — my first fashion show. I had designed most of the pieces by then, but I also made adjustments.”
Key said she was excited for the show after months and months of preparation.
“When I finally got there, it was kind of surreal, because I was standing backstage — and of course the designer walks after everybody — and I was watching it go, and I was like ,‘This has literally like been like six months of my life going,’” she said. “It was really kind of happy [and] sad, because I was so excited. I watched them, and it was like something that I’ll never forget because it was so — I can’t even put it into words, it was just so great to see that for the first time.”
Professor of apparel, textiles and interior, Sherry Haar, said Key was a hard worker in her classes and she was proud when she saw the video of Key’s collection.
“Gracie, like actually many of our students, [is] very willing to learn, and that’s a trait that not all students have, right?” she said. “However, we do have really good students, like Gracie, that want feedback, and they listen to the feedback, and they apply the feedback — because they want to learn and they want to grow in their strengths, and is this characteristic of Gracie.”
Key said her parents’ support has helped her through her endeavors, as well as encouragement from her friends and community.
“Before I decided to go into fashion design as a major, I was talking to my mom, and I was like, ‘Oh, like I don’t know if this something that I really want to do,’” she said. “[When] you think of being an artist, you think of like a starving artist — people that don’t ever make it. And she was like, ‘No, there’s tons of stuff that you can do like even if you’re not famous like there’s like so many career paths you can take with that.’”
Yingying Wu, assistant professor in apparel, textiles and interior design, said though Key is a quiet student, she is always paying attention and working hard.
“She’s very good at time management, I would say,” she said. “Because for studio courses — [they] usually take like three hours long, and if they were given time to work on their project or assignment in the class, Gracie is the kind of student who always does work in the class.”
Wu said she was excited to hear that Key was going to present a collection at Kansas City Fashion Week.
“Her designs [are] very Gracie,” she said. “I can tell the work she presented in the fashion show represented her aesthetics and also a lot of those works felt familiar because that’s the kind of design — based on her performance in the class, that’s her aesthetics. Everything looks very coherent.”
Key said she has been taking orders from people who want to buy from her collection, which she said is exciting. She said she has come far since debating whether or not to go into fashion, and said she never would have thought she would be where she is today.
“I feel like if you have a dream or have something that you think is impossible usually is very possible, you just have to set your mind to it,” Key said. “Which is cheesy, but it’s true though.”