I met Jessica Ekstrom at the “Bloggy Con” Conference in Cincinnati. She shared her story of why she founded Headbands of Hope and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.
She started a company with a similar give back approach to TOMS shoes …while she was still in college!
I knew from the first time that I met her that I wanted to share her story…and I wanted to buy one of her headbands. (Actually… I wanted to buy many of her headbands but I started with one for me and one for my friend’s baby.)
So here we are a few months later and I’m so glad that you will be able to hear Jessica’s heart today.
What is the story behind HOH?
I was inspired to start Headbands of Hope after my internship in 2011 at the Make a Wish foundation of North Carolina. I found that girls loved to wear headbands instead of wigs to still feel “girly” after losing their hair to treatment.
Therefore I started Headbands of Hope. For every headband purchased, one headband is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund life-saving childhood cancer research.
When did you start HOH?
I started building HoH in the summer of 2011 and then launched it on April 25th 2012. This April will be the one-year-anniversary!
What was an obstacle/challenge you had to overcome in pursuing your dream?
When I was first starting out and communicating with business and charities for partnerships, I hid the fact that I was in college. I thought the fact that I couldn’t even drink legally yet would make me sound like I wasn’t credible. However, I learned that I needed to embrace my age and use it to my advantage. I switched my mentality to, “Yes, I’m the CEO and I still have to do my homework before my Spanish class tomorrow.” I learned that this unique aspect of myself was often an attraction. It was still Headbands of Hope, but it turned into Headbands of Hope: Started by a college student.
How do you balance school and running HOH?
It’s definitely a challenge! However my school has been so supportive. A lot of my professors allow me to do my assignments about Headbands of Hope and they give me feedback, which is really helpful. Sometimes I have to miss fun college experiences like football games or events, but in the end it’s worth it.
What are some of your favorite experiences with HOH so far?
Going to the hospitals to distribute the headbands is always incredible. Seeing the girls’ faces light up when I come in always reassures me of the reason why I started Headbands of Hope. However, I’ve also loved the public speaking opportunities that have risen out of my company. It’s amazing to get email from people that say I’ve inspired them to start something they believe in.
Do you have any favorite reactions or responses from headband recipients?
I had a mother email me one time and her daughter had just finished treatment so her hair was still gone. It was her first day of kindergarten and she was scared to go because she thought people would think she was a boy. However, her mom said when she got her headband, she was so excited to wear it on her first day. It makes me cry everytime I think about that story!
What would you like to see HOH doing in the future?
This question deserves two answers… My first answer is I would love to continue to expand and have new designs and be in more stores. Maybe even a boys’ line for hats?
My second answer is that I hope Headbands of Hope won’t be around in 10 years, because there will be a cure for cancer. I think I’m one of the few people that can say I would love nothing more than to be out of a job, if that means there’s a cure. It’s an honor to work with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to help fund life-saving childhood cancer research in hopes of making our dream of a cure come true.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start something in their community as a way to give back?
Just look around you. There are so many opportunities to help and make a difference. It could be as simple as picking up trash in your local parks, or you could start an organization that helps kids go to camp during the summer.
But whatever your project is, go for it and don’t look back! I started my company in college when I was just about to turn 20. Now, one year later, I look back and I’m so grateful I had the courage and support to just pour everything I had in and make Headbands of Hope what it is today. If I started the company and let myself get consumed with doubts, then my hesitations would have turned detrimental to my company.
How can someone get involved with HOH?
We always need help promoting and spreading the word. Find us on facebook, twitter, pinterest and instagram and help share our story through your social media outlets. If you’re a college student, you can apply on our website to be a campus representative. You can also hold a St. Baldrick’s head shaving event to raise money for kids’ cancer and sell headbands at your event!
Thanks to Jessica for sharing about this amazing give back concept!
*Also thanks to Jessica for sending a donation of 20 headbands for me to drop off for the cancer patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
You can find out more about Headbands of Hope from their website.