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Entrepreneur cooks up GRITS: Girls Raised in the South

For every age group, there is a different line of GRITS apparel and merchandise. /GRITS Inc. photo
Published: Sep/Oct 2000

Southerners know well the formula for grits: ground hominy, loads of butter, a dash of salt and a hearty appetite.

The recipe, however, is a bit different for Deborah Ford, who in 1995 was teaching school and coaching a middle school girls’ volleyball team.

Searching for something to give her players, Ford screen-printed the phrase "GRITS: Girls Raised in the South" on T-shirts. The girls loved the shirts and so did their mothers, who quickly requested shirts of their own. The team’s record didn’t rebound much with the addition of the shirts, but their attitudes soared and a business was born.

With the shirts growing increasingly popular, Ford decided to host a trunk show in the prestigious planned community of Seaside along the Florida Panhandle.

Propelled by shoppers’ hearty appetite for her "GRITS," Ford began embroidering, instead of screen-printing, the T-shirts. Those she took to the Atlanta Apparel Mart where, with only a handful of samples, she landed $65,000 in orders. It was then that she determined to quit her teaching job to work full time producing "GRITS" products for hungry consumers.

Since then, white T-shirts have expanded from "GRITS" to many different sayings pertaining to Southern women. The slogan that began it all, along with others that she developed, now appears on long-sleeved shirts, sweat shirts, aprons, cups, wine glasses, totes, pillows, socks, napkins, hats, fanny packs, tote bags, soap and sun visors.

The business that got its start in Ford’s basement sprawls today in office space in Birmingham, Ala. Deliveries no longer are made from the back of the creator’s car but are shipped en masse across the country.

Ford, who has appeared on programs such as "Good Morning America," recently unveiled an expanded line of "GRITS’ and other Southern items with phrases and wisdoms on cards, stationery and mugs.

"We have GRITS products for every age from ‘Seasoned Grits’ for the mature Southern lady to ‘Instant Grits’ for the small fry," said Ford, whose company two years ago was ranked no. 35 on "Entrepreneur" magazine’s Hot 100 list.

Products churned out by GRITS, Inc. are sold in Cracker Barrel restaurants throughout the United States, in department stores, gift shops and more than 500 Hallmark Card shops in the South.

It just goes to show you what a Southern girl can serve up once she’s on the move.

For more details, call 1-888-44-GRITS or visit

– Lynn Grisard Fullman

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