Will You Stay Stagnant or Rise Up? with Lia Valencia Key

Episode 33

Lia Valencia Key was in elementary school when an injury kept her mom from being able to work and she ended up in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia. Her mom became concerned when she saw her daughter acting like the culture around her, so she sat Lia down and gave her a plain and hard hitting choice: would Lia keep heading down the path of least resistance and be like everyone around her or would she choose to rise above and be the person she aspires to be.

Years later, Lia is honoring her mom’s legacy and the choice she made to follow her dreams. After graduating college and then getting an MA in Education, becoming a world class cosmetologist and styling on air talent at QVC and around the world, she’s now pursuing her passion to inspire others in a new way. This is Lia’s amazing story of her new inspirational brand of jewelry, Valencia Key.


Hey, hey! This is Andrea Wenburg, and I am so glad that you’re here with me today on the Voice of Influence podcast. Today, I have Lia Key with me. And what’s really, really fun about Lia is that she and I met through a mutual friend who styled me. I went out to Philadelphia and I went shopping with Toi Sweeney and then Toi said, let’s do your hair and makeup and she brought in Lia.

I had a blast with Lia, so I’m so excited to get to introduce to you to her because her story and her passion, they really resonate with me and I think they’re going to resonate with you too. So I’m going to start by introducing her.

Lia Valencia Key has been a Dreamer, Believer and Achiever since her very humble beginnings growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia. Always following her inner voice to seek happiness and accomplishments, Lia rose above all inner city stereotypes and statistics by achieving her Masters degree in Education, becoming a Licensed Cosmetology Instructor, landing a styling position at QVC that opened the doors for her to become a personal lead stylist for Incredible Women Founders. CEO of major global beauty brands IT Cosmetics and TATCHA Skin Care. Lia has traveled the world following her heart and passion to marvelous countries such as Dubai, Egypt, China, Morocco, Thailand, Korea, Spain, Paris, Italy, Singapore, and Malaysia absorbing motivation, inspiration, love, light and happiness everywhere she lands. Lia’s next phase of her life journey is to share her empowering message to the world by creating an Inspirational Lifestyle Accessory Brand “VALENCIA KEY.”


Andrea: Lia, it is so good to have you on the Voice of Influence podcast!

Lia Key: So happy and excited to have this opportunity. Thank you so much!

Andrea: Yeah, it was really, really fun to meet you. While you were doing my hair and makeup, I basically interviewed you.

Lia Key: Yes. I loved it.

Andrea: Because I love hearing people’s stories and the more we dug in, the more fun it was. So I’m excited to have you here. Let’s start with where you are right now and then we’re going to go back. So tell me about Valencia Key, what is it all about?

Lia Key: So Valencia Key is an inspirational lifestyle brand. And what it means for lifestyle brand is I’ll be bringing these amazing pieces that I’ve dreamed and created or have inspired me throughout my travels around the world. It can come in forms of jewelry, handbags, anything that really excites in the fashion of a physical, addition to your appearance. But the heart of the brand is going to inspire people globally to achieve and believe and follow your journey because that’s what this whole brand is from, me believing and dreaming all of my life and just going after my heart’s desires. This will be a byproduct of another dream and another achievement. I’m just going to produce great physically, eye-attractive pieces for the world but they have special and empowering messages behind them.

Andrea: I love that. I love the deep meaning behind something so beautiful. I enjoyed wearing them. I got to wear necklace and a couple of bracelets and they’re so beautiful. I would love to hear the back story on this, Lia. I heard a little bit when we talked before, but tell me what it was like for you. You mentioned in your bio growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia. So when you were growing up, what was it about your experience that inspired you to reach for your dreams and be an achiever? Tell me about that?

Lia Key: I was blessed to have a support system. My mother, my grandmother, and my aunt who was very clear that just because you live in an environment does not mean you are of the environment. So I was talked to every moment of my life going through this _____ that we had that just because we’re here doesn’t mean that you have to be here and that you have to settle in this. So paired with my innate desire and then these beautiful women who may have dealt a challenge in hand, but they were still encouraging me that you know, “Go for your heart’s desire and follow your dreams.”

I’m so grateful to actually have the opportunity to live in a very low-income environment where, most people only see the environment around them, most people don’t think that they can do anything better than what they see and that I am blessed to have that drive and that mentality that I can. If you can say, I can then you will so I’m so grateful for that.

Andrea: Yeah. I’m wondering what it was like for you? Can you give us a snapshot of your childhood?

Lia Key: Just in my childhood, what I mean of low income I mean sometimes you don’t have food on the table. My mother broke her leg, which caused her severe break to where they had to put plates on her leg, which caused her not to be able to work. When she’s not able to work, she had to get public assistance. I have older sister and an older brother so a single woman with three children and not able to work, not because that she didn’t want to work and I think those are two different types of people, but she couldn’t work given her unfortunate accident that she had.

We were forced on public assistance and public assistance doesn’t give you enough to live totally a healthy life at least back when I was growing up. So we had to live in public housing. There was not enough food. You get the money once a month so it doesn’t stretch long enough, so there’s a week or two at the end of the month where you have literally no food so much that your stomach is churning on itself. You have to go find this lunch where they’re giving out food and get the little rations that they’re able to give you and you walk a mile to get that to the next point of her leg never got better. We weren’t able to pay the rent that we were living in and a decent environment to where we actually went to a homeless shelter.

So four people, there was my mother and the three of us in a square box room. But before you end up to the square box room, there were these open shelters where you go and all the women were on cots with their children. So there’s this mess room of women and cots and just buddied up on top of each other and that’s how you sleep and that’s where you eat. People are coughing and there were germs everywhere in this room and then finally you may elevate to this one box room where it’s no bigger than a closet and that’s where you sleep.

So coming from that journey, the beauty was my mother always encourages us to go to school, always encourages us to do our best in school, and always encourages us to get good grades. That’s really a hard thing to be a young child and experience these visual things, these physical things and then not eating and seeing all these things around you and still have to go to school and be affected. Still I have to go to school and get these grades that the school deems as achievable.

So my mother would always encourage us “You have to do your homework. You have to do this. You have to go.” So the beauty is that motivation was my inspiration. Finally, we were able to get into public housing and so that’s where you get your little home if you will. So you have people like my mother who has this ailment where she literally can’t walk but then you have people that don’t know any better and they don’t want any better, so they are just _____ profanity. They’re _____ with indecent behaviors and that’s all around you. That’s where you go to school with.

I remember going to school and my mother was packing me lunch and I go into the lunch closet and my lunch was stolen and that happened for weeks because I never told her like “I can’t tell my mother my lunch is stolen.” She barely had enough. You know what I mean; I can’t tell her that this is happening to me. And my mother had a talk with me because when you’re young, you’re either go to the path of what you see around you or you’re going to go the path of what you aspire to be.

So I was kind of leaning to where the path of what I see you know starting that talk in class and grades are slipping and I think this was around fifth grade. That elementary, fifth grade or fourth grade is the pinnacle part of development for children because either you have the basics or you don’t, either you know about being successful or achieving or you don’t or you won’t because after that phase is just uphill battle trying to _____ our mind because you’re starting to get into this preadolescence phase, which is we all know as even horrible.

So my mother had this very real talk with me and it was very stern and very hard. But I remember to this day and what I took from that is she said “Either you’re gonna be a follower or you’re gonna be a leader, and either you’re going to sit here and let people pass you by and stay stagnant and look around and be where you are, or you gonna choose to excel and rise above what you’re seeing and whatever you’re going.” And she was like “You basically choose because what you’re choosing now is to be a loser.”

As a fifth grader, you’re still young but that resonated with me so well and from that moment on; I was consistently on honor roll. I was the class president of the school. I went to all of these after school activity programs. I didn’t understand it but it was those very real talks to say “Basically, you decide. You decide your journey, you decide your future and it’s in your hands. Even as a fifth grader, it’s in your hands.” It definitely was in my hands and so I’m grateful for that.

As I carry throughout my life that’s the journey I lived. I believe in Christ who strengthens me but in conjunction with that, I decide. So my brand has a message that “I’m gonna give you these very beautiful pieces, because I think your external infects your internal.” I do believe that how you look and how you feel they’re very correlated and that’s why the message. That’s why it’s so awesome that I do want to bring these really cool pieces for people to wear. Because just put that little nice bag on your shoulder or a great pair of shoes or an awesome necklace on that just sparks a little more confidence in you, but the meaning behind it to me is so much powerful that “Where do you decide in your life?”

Andrea: Oh gosh, Lia, that’s so gorgeous. I love the story. I love your passion.

Lia Key: Oh thank you.

Andrea:   So there’s couple of things that came to my mind while you were talking that I wanted to ask. So first of all when your mom sat you down and told you that, you have this choice, do you think that you knew that ahead of time, you knew that you had a choice or what was it about her offering you that choice? If she would have just said, “Lia, you have to do this,” or you’re going to end up like that or whatever? I mean, if she would have told you, what do you think your inner response would have been?

Lia Key: I don’t think I would have got it. I think those real moments of her really painting the picture of “Here’s the path you’re going, loser. The environment around you, this is where you’re going and you choose which way you want to be.” As a fifth grader, I wasn’t clear that I was getting it that way but I was clear that I didn’t want to be a loser. In that statement, you know, and that harshness if you will versus someone saying “You better get good grades, you better get good grades.” “But why?” I think it would have been about why if it would have just been a straight statement of what you need to do. But the fact that she compared it to a very clear visual image, as a fifth grader, I can understand “I don’t want that.”

Andrea: When you say very clear visual image, was she showing you something or pointing people out?

Lia Key: She was talking about our life, like “Look what you’re in, look what you’re around. You’re around people who haven’t seen anything. You’re around people that are on drugs. You’re around people that have alcohol issues, or you’re around people that have no education that they dropped out of school. This is what you see when you walk out that door.” In our house, it was a safe haven. But as soon as you walk out the door, this is what you’re immersed in, “Do you want to do this? This is what I call a loser.”

She was in that predicament but she was still saying “Unfortunately, you’re moving to the path of what we have to live in at this moment. Do you want to choose that? Is that your choice because I can tell you at this moment that’s where you’re going by your behavior and by your grades, that’s where you’re going? So you decide if you want to be a leader or a follower if you want to excel or either you want to lose.”

That was just so visual to me because I can look around and I maybe young but I knew that this wasn’t good living. I knew that this wasn’t happiness. Maybe, I didn’t know anything different but I knew that this didn’t feel good what I was seeing. You know, children in an environment like that have no discipline. They are just wild and unruly, so you’re sitting in a class with children just yelling above and beyond. “So do you wanna stay back and still be in this environment or do you wanna to push forward and get into a high school that you can kind of choose your environment? What high school do you wanna to get into? You’re not gonna get into a good one if you stay on the path that you’re on.”

So those are very visual for me, and I’m a visual person and I love creating beautiful things. You know, from my education background there’s pedagogies and there’s different ways of teaching and so everyone learns differently. And I think she hit me right in the area where I’m able to learn.

Andrea: Yeah. I think so many of us do too then also just the choice instead of the shame. She wasn’t shaming you, she was saying this is what you’re headed towards if you don’t…yeah, I love that.

Lia Key: Me too. I’m grateful. I’m so grateful. I think my mother had a very challenging life and you know she wasn’t able to get out of it if you will but you’re able, if possible, to try to break cycles and you’re able to try to tell people that are coming up under you differently. My gratefulness is that I was able to hear it and receive it. But just because someone’s telling you something does not mean you’re able to receive it so I am so grateful that I was hearing it and slowly receiving it.

Andrea: Oh man, this is so good. I think that for the person that’s listening right now, the influencer that’s listening; I mean do you hear all this, because this is about real communication. It’s about a message that actually pierces somebody’s heart, and even though it’s harsh, it ends up bringing out life and calling out life. I love this. So Lia, when you think about putting on something, you’ve been talking about putting on this jewelry and sort of making you feel confident and that sort of thing, what kind of things do you remember putting on as a kid after you made that decision “No, I’m gonna be a leader.” How did that become even more visual for you? How did you continue to put on things?

Lia Key: I’ve been creative. If you saw young pictures of me there, it’s quite interesting. I always love to express myself just purely. I never have the drive to follow in the norm and I think it was very pinnacle after fifth grade when I was like “Oh yeah, I’m gonna be me and me wants to succeed. But me just doesn’t wanna succeed, but me wanna do me in all forms of life and me wants to be happy in all forms of life and what that feels like to me.” So externally, me was orange-white shirt or me was neon something.

So I was very nontraditional but that’s how I felt. I felt bright inside. I felt expressive inside and so I would dress and express it. Me was not all black, you know. Me is not conforming to trends of everyone wearing the same sneakers if you will. Me was, oh my God, this _____ thick platform or something that’s very old school. I like that because me was very expressive and so that’s how visually I internalize who I was and just wear it on the outside as well as inside. So when you see me, you pretty much can probably get my energy before I open my mouth.

Andrea: I can attest to that even now.

Lia Key: So for my brand, you know, everyone has an expressive style. Everyone has a light in them. Everyone has some joy in them and so I want to position my pieces. Even if you’re a classy person and you’re not necessarily as visually expressive as I am but you always have a little light and you do always want to have some sort of expression. No want wants to be just bland and black, no one does. Everyone doesn’t know how to accomplish that effectively so they stay safe, right? I appreciate staying safe until you learn how to become effectively expressive.

So I want my pieces to provide that classic person or that safe person away to have just one little piece or two little pieces that in their safe visual moment they can pop on and say “Yeah, there’s my light that I’m putting to the world. Yeah there’s my expression. Yeah, there’s my passion. There’s my energy that I’m putting to the world.” And it’s comfortable enough to just be on a wrist, just lightly be on the neck, or just be over your shoulder, just enough. So you have your form of expression without outshining who you are truly which is a safe, more structured, more routine person. I never want someone to be outside of their box, but I also want someone to be able to tap into all their forms of who they are and that little light and energy is inside of everyone.

Andrea: Yes, I love it. I think that that is really, really wise statement, a wise vision for you to want to give people who like to play at safe a chance to do something small and put on something small that would still tap into who they are and that beauty, that light, and that joy that they have to offer. What do you think it does to somebody when they put it on? What do you think goes on inside of a person?

Lia Key: You know, it does a lot like you can have your favorite necklace on. Let’s say you’re going to an interview, everyone makes interviews a big deal, right? Because that’s when you need to be your strongest because you’re about to go in front of someone who’s going to critique you if you will, so you need all the energy support that you can get. You have your interview _____, right? It’s safe, I’m sure, but you need something because you need confidence in an interview. You need courage in an interview. So you grab your favorite necklace and that favorite necklace is that courage and support, that confidence, and that little piece that says “OK, I’m good” and it will sparkles to myself and to the person that’s looking at me.

So it’s a two-way street with these little visual traits because not only are you energizing yourself with whatever the piece looks like because you know what you put on “Yeah, let’s take that suit right to the next level.” And then by the way, it has a message to it “Yes, I am prosperous. Yes, it’s my divine right to be prosperous. So when I walk into this interview, it’s my divine right to nail it.” So that’s great for you but on the other side of the table, you walk into the interview and yeah you got to say _____ but you have this pretty little piece, very simple. The interviewer whether it’d be a man or woman says “She’s well-put together, and oh that little trinkets something about it, something about her whole construction is very into the theme of what our culture is but she grinds a little more to the table.”

So it’s this amazing two-way street that it’s confidence and assurance to both parties and their unconscious thoughts. No one is going to say that necklace did all of that. No one is going to make that bold statement but the truth is it does. Take the necklace off and have a bare neck and walk into the room bland and so then you have to work harder or you have to push a little more. But if you come in with just a little bit of interest, you’ve already elevated yourself from your personal vision because you looked in the mirror and say “Yes,” to yourself and then to the person at the opposite side that “Uh-huh she knows how to put it together, now let’s say what she has to say.”

A lot of people call it superficial. Visual is not superficial. Visual says that I care. Visual shows the world how I’m feeling today. Visual shows the world where my emotions lie because generally you’re wearing it as much outside as you’re wearing it inside. I think the real smart and strong and powerful people know how to visually make it right to let the world understand who you are even if you’re not feeling that way that day until you get to where you want to feel and that’s the only powerful way you can do that.

Do you ever sense when someone says “Oh you don’t look good today.” Well, that’s probably because you didn’t _____. Just because you don’t feel good inside, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to look good because visually ready externally until you push that internal side to get to the status of where you visually brought it to.

Andrea: This is so deep. I mean, it is so deep because I think that I know that in my story, I really want to keep it real. I got to this point where I was like, and even when I was a kid, I did not want to put on anything visually because I wanted people to respect me for who I was on the inside, not how I look on the outside. But as I have grown and matured and live life more, I’ve realized that actually it does matter what I put on, that what I put on can call out of me something very real.

Lia Key: Yes, exactly. You ever heard the statement; you have to hang around people you want to be. So that statement means, maybe I want to be a CEO of a company, do I hang with secretaries? So if I want to be a CEO, I’ll try to put myself that I’m not a CEO by any means so internally I’m not that but if you put yourself in a place to where you want to be by theory of life, you will get there or darn sure close.

So the same thing with visual is, if I want to be something whatever I want to be, I don’t know. I want to be hippie, I want to be in a corporate, I want to be artsy, or whatever you want to be internally or whatever you want to feel confident, if I’m wearing slouchy, sluggish external appearance clothes or if that’s how I’m coming out to the word, then I only can stay sluggish inside. But if I come out in a poppy little necklace on, a poppy little bracelet on, or a poppy little bag on, I put on a nice but not too extravagant outfit together, now I have to rise to that occasion.

It’s like looking at a fruit, you know how the inside is because of the outside layer, it looks rotten you know. So how about, we polish up the outside and even inside is rotten if my outside is polished, I have to start healing with them.

Andrea: Interesting.

Lia Key: I mean that’s my thing in life. I’ve never claimed to be an expert of anything. I’ve never been one thousand of the best at anything but I decide to be it. I decide to be a master’s graduate and a teacher of algebra. I decided to be that then I decided that I was going to follow passion because I’ve always been artistic and to go into this beauty industry. And I decided that I was going to be in an environment where I can self-taught leaders and game changers. I didn’t start that way but I decided that and so I started from the external deciding it and internally, I started to have to make moves to get to where I want to be.

And all along with journey, visually, I had to bring something out when I decided to put myself in these places even though I had no knowledge when I said “OK, I’m gonna walk into this door of MAC Cosmetics.” Bare Essentials is my first place of makeup and cosmetics, so these are all visual places. I was not a great makeup artist. I was not; probably I would say I was horrible. But visually, I put myself together and probably took three hours to do my make up to make sure that visually when I walk in the door, I look like where my internal wasn’t ready for.

But because I put it together externally, I had to rise to that occasion when I was accepted into that group and make it match and guess what happened, it started to match. So we have to stop creating visual as superficial because it’s not. It’s way more powerful than what we give way to, and my journey is to just add little pieces to help you out on your internal and external journey throughout life.

Andrea: Do you think that your mom, giving you that choice back when you were in fifth grade, it seems to me like it gave you permission to aspire to be more and aspire to do more. I’m going to say that for me with my journey, I think I always look for permission where it might have been expected of me but I was really looking for permission to stand out because I didn’t want to alienate myself, whereas you’re a somebody who really did standout and you did from the beginning and you were okay with doing that visually.

So I think that one of the things that you’re offering people is permission.

Lia Key: Yes, yes! Great! That’s it. My brand is offering you permission to be your best to seek your own happiness and to find what that looks like to you. In my brand, it’s cosigning that it’s OK and if you are already in that place, because some people are already are, to celebrate it and to then inspire others to be. So it can be just continuous journey or permission to be awesome in a very humble, pleasant, gracious, and grateful way.

Andrea: Yes, I love that so much. Goosebumps all over my arms right now. Tell me more about prosperous. You mentioned, one of the things that your brand is communicating is being prosperous. I know that that is really a deep concept for you, so can you tell the influencer listening what that means?

Lia Key: So there’s a lot of inspirational brands out there; accessory brands, jewelry brands. There’s a lot in the market and normally, we choose words like hope. We choose words like faith. You know these safe words that are very obvious, right? They’re very clear and I love those words because you need faith, you need hope. These are very good words but my heart is pushing me to grab these nontraditional words that have so much power to them but have been truly misconstrued in the society.

So my first collection is entitled Prosperity, and that’s a real risky title to give the collection, Prosperity, because most people think of prosperity as money. When you ask people of prosperity, 910 they would say “How much money do you have, how many money did you make? Oh that person is really rich but in money.” I am pushing the statement that prosperity is one of the most powerful words that we can have in use but it’s nothing about money. It’s nothing about finances; it’s all about being rich in fulfillment. It’s all about being rich in achievement. It’s all about finding what your heart desires and moving toward accomplishing it and then accomplishing it and everything in between that takes you want that journey.

Prosperity is a life of joy, a life of happiness. That’s what prosperity is and there’s not one person on this planet that doesn’t desire prosperity. They may think of it as money because we’ve been told that it’s money. But they’re not desiring money, they’re desiring happiness. They’re desiring fulfillness, and they’re desiring joy. So my collection is stating that you have a divine right to be prosperous, everyone. Prosperity is individualized. My prosperity doesn’t look like your prosperity, your prosperity doesn’t look like what your daughter’s prosperity is going to look like, and they all are valid and we all should seek them.

We should all get on the question of mission to be prosperous because when I’m prosperous then I can share the joy of prosperity to you and then we live in this life of fulfillment and happiness in whatever face that looks like. Maybe it looks like love of family to you, maybe it looks like a healthy lifestyle to me, or maybe it looks like abundance and money to another person but we should be sharing this joy and this quest of achieving divine of prosperity so that we can share light and love to everyone that we connect with and help them on their journey.

Andrea: Where all do you want to share your message? I mean, have you thought about going into the schools and talking to kids and that sort of thing?

Lia Key: Oh yes. The beauty is I feel like this brand is just like a jumpstart to a travelling message honestly. So you actually stated exactly my vision. My goal is to encourage and touch as many people as possible be it you were the brand or you don’t. I want the message to travel so I’m interested in talking into schools and doing speaking engagements in groups of people who are already there and want to go further or groups of people who have no clue where to go. Yes, no clue that it’s possible to go anywhere and that my message can push them along.

So hopefully, I can get enough support with the brand and the pieces so that I can take this message to actually speak to as many people as possible that we can encourage a life of growing and greatness.

Andrea: Yeah, I’m excited for those kids, those people who are going to get to hear you speak because you bring an authenticity and energy, a creative visual positive spirit that like I said you’re giving permission. You’re giving people a choice and you’re saying what your mom said to you. You’re saying “Do you want keep hiding behind bland clothing or whatever it might be, and do you want to keep going that direction or do you want to put on the kind of clothing that’s gonna call out who you really are.”

And you know, clothing, jewelry whatever it might be, I’m just really excited for your message and for how you’re going to continue to really make a big difference in the world with your voice of influence. So thank you so much for being here today!

Lia Key: I totally appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me, it was an absolute joy!