It is more than safe to say that Jess Ekstrom is changing the world one person at a time. This courageous and charismatic woman founded Headbands of Hope during her college years, and spends her life ensuring that children with cancer are able to express their identities through headwear, giving them a spark of happiness during times of darkness. We are absolutely stunned by her vision and commitment to others, which we couldn’t be more excited to share with you!
Tell us about how Headbands of Hope was born!
During the summer of 2011 when I was in college, I interned at a wish-granting organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses. I saw so many girls migrating towards headbands instead of wigs after hair-loss. Headbands gave them the opportunity to regain their feminine identity without hiding what they’re going through with a wig.
I started searching for organizations that provided headbands to girls undergoing chemotherapy but couldn’t find any. Therefore, I founded HeadbandsOfHope.org in April 2012 during my junior year of college. For every headband sold, one is given to a child with cancer and $1 is donated to fund childhood cancer research.
Women fighting cancer often lose their signature locks; tell us about why you think it is so important to be able to feel feminine during this time?
When you lose your hair, it can feel like you’re losing a part of your identity. Headbands are the perfect way for girls and women to express themselves through a simple accessory and restore their identity without hiding what they’re going through with a wig.
Tell us more about your experience working with children who are undergoing chemotherapy and more.
Working with the kids is the best and hardest part of my job. The moments we create coming into the hospitals is the heartbeat of what we do. We received a letter from a mother who’s daughter was finishing her chemotherapy and was supposed to go to kindergarten. She said she was scared to go to school because she thought everyone would think she was a boy because her hair hadn’t grown back. When she got her headband at the hospital, she came home that night and laid out her outfit for kindergarten the next day with her new headband.
It’s moments like this that exemplify the impact one headband can have.
We love the fact that when you launched Headbands of Hope you were a college student without a business degree; how did you turn your passion into a business?
Being a college student, I had so many resources right at my fingertips to help build a business plan and get the ball rolling. I set up meetings with the business school (I was a communications major with no business experience), graphic design students, textile professors and anyone else I felt could help me.
I didn’t spend too much time worrying about having everything in place. I just started working and things started to come together, even though I didn’t have everything planned out from the beginning. Of course I made mistakes along the way, but you learn from them and move on. If you want something bad enough, there should be no obstacle too big to stop you.
What is the creative process for designing the headbands?
We try to be observant of the world around us and anticipate trends. But we also like to steer off of what you’d see in the magazines and create unique styles. For example, our feather collection is so unique and unlike any other headband you’d find.
What advice do you have for other twenty-somethings who would like to start their own businesses?
In the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek, he defines the difference between success and achievement. Achievement comes when you attain WHAT you want. Success comes when you’re in clear pursuit of WHY you want it.
It helped me realize that we need to stop seeing tangible achievements as our final destination. We can attain a new car and expensive vacations, but we can only feel success deep in our hearts, where it’s difficult to put those feelings into words.
The moment I open the door to a girl’s hospital room with a basket of headbands and see her smile, that’s when I feel my success. There’s no other way to explain it. There’s no numerical number I hit or competitor I beat. It’s just that feeling that I get where I know that all my hard work is making an impact and changing a life.
When you have a clear vision of your “why,” work doesn’t have to feel like work. My biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs is to not just find your why, but also keep it in clear sight. Put it in a frame, wear it on a bracelet, post it on your fridge. When things get hard, your why can get blurry. Always keep it in clear focus to help you through it.
What word describes the twenty-something years?
What can we find you doing after work and on the weekends?
One of the parts about owning your own business is that “after work” doesn’t exist! I’m always on the clock because your company is always your responsibility. But I also love writing. I just released my first book The Freshman Fabulous: The Girl’s Guide to College and I’m also a professional speaker on college campuses and at corporations. I also love crossfit, camping, trying new foods and spending time with friends and family.
What is the more rewarding aspect of your business, and what pushes you to continue doing what you do?
I love solving problems. I once read in a book called Rework that starting a business is like having an itch. You find an “itch” that bothers you or is an issue and you create a “scratch.” Girls not feeling feminine and having low self-esteem after hair-loss is my itch. Headbands of Hope is my scratch.
When you find a social issue or a problem that needs help and you create a solution, you also understand the value of what you do a lot more than if you just pulled a business idea off the internet.
And because of that, I know that every minute I spend on my company is connected to something I believe in. Not every day is glamorous, but I can always remember my purpose and why I started.
Tell us two fun facts about you that we couldn’t find on your social media or website!
– I ran the Disney World Marathon with my sister!
– I love going thrift shopping with my friends.
For more on Jess and Headbands of Hope visit the Headbands of Hope website.